UN backs Australia's Asia AIDS fight
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The Sidney Morning Herald
Published: 3 May 2009
The United Nations says Australia's efforts to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS in Asia with policies advocating needle exchange and drug substitution are providing a model for nations throughout the region.
UNAIDS Asia Pacific director Prasada Rao said Australia's calls for Asian states to take a fresh look at their drug laws and strategies to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS was gaining ground.
Australia has stepped up its calls for harm reduction strategies that include needle exchange programs among narcotic users in countries where tough penalties for possession and trafficking of narcotics, especially heroin, include the death penalty.
"Australia is a good model for harm reduction programs and also for looking at drug laws and revamping them," Mr Rao said in an interview with AAP.
"In fact quite a few countries in Asia have learnt their harm reduction strategies in good examples from Australia," he said.
The UN support for Australia came as Australia's Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance Bob McMullan announced additional spending of $640,000 to support non-government organisations working in Asia.
Mr McMullan said HIV remained a serious threat in the Asia-Pacific region.
"The story is we need to halt the spread of AIDS. It's prevention that counts. Of course we have to provide good treatment to people who are infected and there are five million in this region - so that's a big challenge," he said in a weekend interview.
Mr McMullan said it was still possible for regional countries to have effective prevention and harm reduction without encouraging injecting drug use.
"We don't want to stop them catching the criminals who are pushing the drugs or whatever - we work very strongly with them. That's a very big important part of the Australian government policy.
"But in terms of reducing the spread of HIV, we have to focus on prevention," he said.
The Australian government is currently providing an estimated $130 million for HIV activities over 2008-2009 through multilateral, bilateral and regional channels. It is expected that by 2011, Australia will have invested $1.0 billion on HIV/AIDS over the decade.