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Asian women at risk of HIV from spouses

Bali, Indonesia
MILLIONS of women in Asia are at risk of contracting HIV from men who engage in unsafe sex, UNAIDS said in a report released on Tuesday.

More than 90 percent of the 1.7 million women living with HIV in the region are thought to have contracted the virus from their husbands or long-term partners, the report said. Fifty million women are currently in long term-relationships with men who sleep with men, buy sex or inject drugs.

"The sexual behaviour of married men jeopardises not only their own lives, but the lives of their partners," Nafis Sadik, the UN secretary general's special envoy on HIV/AIDS in Asia, said.

The report called for HIV prevention programmes targeting men who have sex with men, injecting drug users and men who buy sex to be "scaled up" and expanded to reach out to long-term intimate partners.

"HIV prevention programmes focused on the female partners of men with high-risk behaviours still haven't found a place in national HIV plans and priorities in Asian countries," Dr Prasada Rao, the director of the UNAIDS regional support team for Asia and the Pacific, said. Governments need to integrate AIDS programmes into sexual and reproductive health services and reach out particularly to rural and semi-urban women, Rao said.

Last year, women accounted for 35 percent of all infections in Asia, up from 17 percent in 1990. In 2006, 47 percent of people living with HIV in Cambodia were female, up from 37 percent in 2002.

Dr Jay Silverman, director of violence against women prevention research at the Harvard School of Public Health, praised the report, saying "Bringing HIV and reproductive health together is incredibly important."

The report, "HIV Transmission in Intimate Partner Relationships in Asia", was released at the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific in Bali, Indonesia.

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