- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 6, 2001

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Delegates at an AIDS conference warned governments in Asia and the Pacific yesterday that they can no longer ignore an epidemic that has infected 6.4 million people in the region and is spreading quickly.

Activists also called on drug companies to put people before profit in the fight against AIDS. Drug manufacturers have come under increasing pressure to lower their prices for poorer countries.

Representatives from 40 countries attended a gala ceremony last night to officially open the Sixth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, which runs until Wednesday in the southern Australian city of Melbourne.

Some 36 million people around the world are living with HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS, according to the United Nations' AIDS agency. In East Asia and the Pacific, about 6.4 million people carry the virus.

Werasit Sittitrai, associate director of UNAIDS' Asia, Pacific and Middle East Division, said the congress comes at a time when some countries have become complacent about the virus.

"A lot of countries feel that AIDS is not here, and will not be here," Mr. Sittitrai said at a news conference before the opening.

Indonesian HIV activist Suzana Murni said not enough people with the sickness were able to get drugs in Asia.

"I believe important drugs like HIV drugs should be available as a choice for patients and not a luxury," said Miss Murni. "We must put people's life before profit."

A U.N.-sponsored report released Thursday by Monitoring the AIDS Pandemic Network, a nongovernmental organization, showed that the once relatively low levels of infection of HIV/AIDS in Asia have increased markedly.

While only Thailand, Burma and Cambodia showed substantial HIV epidemics in 1999, the virus has now begun spreading rapidly in Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Nepal and Vietnam, the report said. In China home to a fifth of the world's people the infection is moving into new groups of the population, the report said.

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