August 25, 2003
Officials and representatives from Asian national AIDS programs on Thursday at the conclusion of a four-day meeting on HIV/AIDS prevention in Vientiane, Laos, agreed to expand the "100% condom use program" among Asian sex workers, Agence France-Presse reports. The program involves sex education and distribution of condoms for sex workers and the support of the police, according to Agence France-Presse (Rowse, Agence France-Presse, 8/21). Pilot programs started in several Asian countries over the past few years have shown success in increasing condom use among sex workers and reducing new HIV infections, according to the Associated Press. "There are few success stories in AIDS," Dr. Bernard Fabre-Teste, head of the HIV and sexually transmitted infections unit at WHO's regional office in Manila, said, adding, "This is one of them. The epidemic in Asia is still concentrated in certain areas. If this program is expanded, we have a real chance at containing this epidemic" (Associated Press, 8/21).
More Condom Distribution Needed
Ahead of the conference, World Health Organization officials endorsed expansion of the program and said that the number of condoms currently distributed worldwide each year -- approximately six to nine billion -- falls short of the 24 billion needed. According to WHO officials, a substantial proportion of HIV cases in Asia can be attributed to the commercial sex industry. WHO is currently working with the governments of China, Myanmar, Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos and the Philippines to implement 100% condom use programs. The programs have already been highly successful in Thailand and Cambodia, where more than 90% of sex workers now use condoms. In Thailand and Cambodia, the number of new HIV infections has dropped by more than 80% since the peak of the epidemic there in the 1990s. In addition, 16% of HIV/AIDS cases in Thailand and 21% in Cambodia can be traced to the sex industry, down from 80% to 90% (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/18). Myanmar -- which has approximately 180,000 reported HIV cases and is considered to have "one of the most potentially explosive AIDS epidemics in Asia" -- has had "considerable success" implementing a 100% condom use pilot program, with condom distribution increasing five-fold from 1997 to 2002, according to the Associated Press (Associated Press, 8/21).