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Saturday, 14 October, 2000, 00:35 GMT
South-East Asia 'facing Aids crisis'
Thai aids sufferer
Few sufferers in Thailand can afford treatment
The Aids crisis in South-East Asia could soon match the severity of the epidemic in Africa, researchers have told a medical conference.

Between 360 and 400 new patients are diagnosed with HIV every month in Malaysia, Associate Professor Adeeba Kamarulzaman, from the University of Malaya, told the gathering of medical experts in London.

Experts also warn the high costs of drugs used to treat sufferers' symptoms mean the majority of cases world-wide go untreated.

Less than 1% of sufferers in Thailand and only 10-20% of sufferers in Malaysia can afford treatment, a situation similar to that in Sub-Saharan Africa, which remains the world's worst affected area.

One in three people in Botswana suffer from HIV, and Zimbabwe is believed to have at least two million cases, of which 35% are pregnant women.

High cost

The warnings came at the first 'HIV/Aids: A Commonwealth Emergency' conference at the Royal College of Physicians in central London.

Anti-Aids pills
Drugs remain out of reach of many poor sufferers
The high cost of drugs needed to suppress the symptoms of HIV/Aids was highlighted as a key area for concern.

"Less than 1% of the Thai population have money left over for anti-retroviral treatment after food and non-food items," said Professor Kamarulzaman.

In Malaysia, 35,000 people have been diagnosed with HIV since the mid-1980s, but the cost of drugs mean only 10-20% of cases are being treated.

Further measures

The executive director of pharmaceutical company Glaxo Wellcome, James Cochrane, said that despite reductions in the price of drugs, further measures are urgently needed to fight the epidemic.

Child Aids sufferer in Uganda
Africa remains worst hit by the disease
"The Ugandan government only spends 4 ($5.9) per head per year on health. These drugs have to be subsidised if we are going to get people living longer," he said.

Professor Ahmed Latif from the University of Zimbabwe medical school also warned of poor morale among health workers, and the social impact of the Aids epidemic.

"Families are unable to cope with the situation they become poor and remain poor," he said.

"If a second person in the family becomes infected there is no more money left for them," he added.

The conference also heard that a vaccine for the disease remains at least five years away.

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See also:

06 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
China wages war on Aids
20 Feb 00 | Health
Gene therapy 'advance' for Aids
04 Nov 99 | Aids
Aids up close
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