The UN yesterday called for greater efforts to prevent and treat AIDS among pregnant women and newborns in the Asia-Pacific region, where some 930,000 more people became infected last year.
The call for better integration of HIV treatment and maternal health services was made at the opening of the first Asia-Pacific Joint Forum, a five-day conference of officials, health professionals, NGOs and HIV patients from 22 countries.
The challenge is to prevent the disease and improve nutrition "to provide a holistic package of services for mothers and their children," said Richard Bridle, UNICEF deputy regional director for Asia and the Pacific.
Delegates at the conference are expected to agree on a framework for stronger links between maternal and child health, family planning, sexual health and counseling and testing for HIV as well as other sexually transmitted infections.
According to UN figures, the estimated number of HIV positive women in the Asia-Pacific region increased by 16 percent to over 2 million between 2001 and 2004.
Globally, the increase was 8 percent.
The number of new infections among children and young people is also growing.
Last year, an estimated 8.3 million people, including 411,000 children, were living with HIV in Asia-Pacific, with 82,000 infected that year alone. About 90 percent of these children were infected as a result of mother to child transmission.
During the conference, the delegates will promote a strategy for the prevention of primary HIV infection in mothers and young children.
"Linking HIV prevention efforts with reproductive health care can strengthen and improve access to both," said Dr. Chaiyos Kunanusont, an adviser to the UN Population Fund.
"Millions of women who don't know their HIV status have an unmet need for effective contraception. Integrated services would enable them to protect themselves and also reduce HIV transmission to their children," Kunanusont said.
A UN statement pointed out that globally, as part of the Millennium Development Goals, governments have agreed to reduce maternal mortality, tackle infant and child mortality, and to prevent the further spread of HIV and AIDS.
"Yet in many countries, public health budgets remain low [and] access to health services, especially in rural areas, remains inadequate," it said.