Taiwan needs to step up its efforts in disease prevention to meet the “three zeros” goal set by UNAIDS, the Taiwan AIDS Society said yesterday, ahead of the global observance of World AIDS Day on Sunday.
The UNAIDS goal refers to its 2015 target of “zero new HIV infections, zero AIDS-related deaths and zero discrimination.”
However, Taiwan does not seem to have successfully taken on any of the three targets, which are highly interconnected, said Lin Hsi-hsun (林錫勳), Taiwan AIDS president and professor of infectious diseases at I-Shou University.
“Every day we have six more HIV positives, as every year about 2,500 new HIV positive cases are diagnosed,” Lin said. “As of October, the total number of HIV positives in the country reached 26,148, an increase of 9.54 percent from the same period last year.”
As for the goal of zero AIDS-related deaths, Lin said this requires that all HIV positive people have access to early detection and proper treatment, but “Taiwan’s punitive laws on HIV transmission and widely present discrimination have compromised people’s willingness to get screenings and thereby the early treatment that could bring down the death toll.”
Taiwan is among the 40-plus countries that still imposes HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay and residence, Lin said.
It is also lagging behind on decriminalization of the disease, with Article 21 of the HIV Infection Control and Patient Rights Protection Act (人類免疫缺乏病毒傳染防治及感染者權益保障條例) stating: “Individuals who are fully aware that they are infected have, by concealing the fact, unsafe sex with others or injections by sharing needles and syringes, diluted fluids or containers, and thus infect others, shall be sentenced for five years up to 12 years.”
“The law would paradoxically lead to the concealing of the condition on the part of HIV positive people, for fear of possible threats [of telling on them] that they might face after disclosure,” Lin said, adding that the law could be amended to convict only those who intentionally transmit the disease, with confirmed infection of the victim.
Hsieh Szu-min (謝思民), an infectious disease specialist at National Taiwan University Hospital, said that there is no “high-risk group” for HIV infection, only “high-risk behavior.”
“Anyone who has engaged in high-risk behavior, mostly unsafe sex, is at risk of HIV infection and should be screened for it as early as possible as there is no obvious symptoms in its early stage,” Hsieh said.