SYDNEY, Australia — After more than a decade of relatively low rates of infection, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has begun spreading rapidly through Asia and the Pacific region, according to a report released Thursday.
The rise, in some of the world's most populated countries, is occurring mostly in high-risk groups such as intravenous drug users, sex workers and gay men, the report says.
The study--conducted by the Monitoring the AIDS Pandemic, or MAP, Network and commissioned by the United Nations--was released ahead of the sixth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, which starts today in Melbourne.
The five-day conference is expected to attract hundreds of experts and activists from the region.
MAP, a nongovernmental group, last studied the disease in Asia in 1999, when it found that only Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia had HIV epidemics. A number of states in India and provinces in China also were heavily affected.
"In the last two years, the picture has changed dramatically," the group said in its latest report.
"Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Nepal and Vietnam . . . have all registered marked increases in HIV infection in recent years, while in China--home to a fifth of the world's population--the infection seems to be moving into new groups of the population," it added.
The study linked a rise in the use of injected drugs to the spread of HIV in several countries, notably Indonesia.
There also was a rise in the number of blood donors infected with HIV in Indonesia, the report says.
In Japan, the number of HIV infections reported among men who have had sex with other men has risen sharply, the report says.
China's HIV epidemic was initially concentrated among intravenous drug users and, in some areas, among those who received transfusions of infected blood, according to the report.
"However, the opening of Chinese society has changed sexual practices, and this has resulted in recent increases in sexually transmitted infections, including HIV," the report says.