BANGKOK - Tens of thousands of HIV-affected households in Asia are facing "irreversible poverty" because of the cost of living with the disease, with women and children hardest hit, a UN report said Thursday.
Catastrophic healthcare costs and the loss of employment opportunities due to widespread discrimination mean that many HIV-positive households across the region are in "rapid socio-economic decline," the report said.
"Without intervention, many (HIV-affected families) will slip into irreversible poverty," the UN Development Programme's deputy regional director Nicolas Rosellini said in a statement released Thursday.
He called on regional governments to do more to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the disease, which drives many families into debt traps, locking their children into a lifetime of poverty.
The extra costs faced by HIV-affected households make it harder for parents to pay for their children's education, with school dropout rates far higher for such families across the region, the report found.
The disease also "disproportionately affects women and girls" who are biologically more vulnerable to infection, have more limited access to treatment and usually take on the bulk of responsibility for caring for affected individuals, it found.
In countries like India, Indonesia and Vietnam, HIV-affected families spend up to three times more on healthcare costs than the average, according to the report, which examined some 17,000 households across Asia.
Cambodia is the only country in Asia where households' health expenditure as a percentage of their overall consumption is not substantially higher for HIV-affected families due to the widespread government provision of antiretroviral treatment, the report said.
The UN estimates some 34 million people worldwide lived with HIV last year, while improved treatment has meant that the number of AIDS-linked deaths has steadily dropped from a peak of 2.2 million in 2005 to 1.8 million last year.
About half of those eligible for treatment are now receiving it, something that saved the lives of 700,000 people in 2010, the UN has said.
"Yet the challenge is far from over," Samlee Plianbangchang, regional director of the World Health Organisation, wrote in an opinion piece in the Bangkok Post Thursday.
"The impact on women and children is devastating. An estimated 1.3 million women aged 15 and above currently live with HIV" in Asia, he wrote, adding that the number of children living with HIV had risen 46 per cent from 2001 to 2009.
The main drivers of the spread of HIV are unsafe sex and drug injection, with five countries - Myanmar, India, Indonesia, Nepal and Thailand - accounting for the majority of the disease burden in the region, he said.