HANOI, Mar 24 (Reuters) The United Nations called on governments today to take immediate steps to better protect children from HIV/AIDS and ensure better treatment for those infected.
At the end of 2005, an estimated 30,000 children in East Asia and the Pacific were living with HIV or AIDS, nearly 11,000 of them newly infected, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said in a statement at a conference in Hanoi.
''It is imperative that the call for action is taken seriously at the highest level of political decision making,'' Anupama Rao Singh, UNICEF's Regional Director of East Asia and the Pacific, said in the statement.
Asia has the world's fastest growing HIV rates, with 50 percent of all people infected in the region last year aged between 14 and 24.
UNICEF said about 450,000 children in the region had lost one or both parents to AIDS while millions more children and young people were at high risk of HIV infection or suffered from stigma and discrimination.
''To effectively mount our response, we need to improve our country-level analysis of the situation of children and the impact of HIV so as to be better able to guide efforts to plan and scale up our response,'' Singh added.
She also called for leaders of Southeast Asian nations to endorse a UNICEF plan to help children with HIV/AIDS at their next meeting in Manila.
Experts say the true extent of the region's epidemic is probably understated. The lack of good quality and consistent data on children and young people greatly hinders the region's response to the epidemic.
Of the 263,500 HIV/AIDS patients in Vietnam, 8,500 were under 19 years old, with only around 260 provided treatment on a regular basis last year, the Vietnamese government said in a report.
''Children are the hardest-affected victims of the HIV/AIDS epidemic,'' said Le Thi Thu, chairwoman of Vietnam's Commission of Population, Family and Children.
''These children should have the same rights as others,'' she told a news conference.
Only a few countries in the region collect data on children with HIV/AIDS, UNICEF said.
It also called for the elimination of religious and cultural taboos that deter parents and educators from addressing topics such as safe sex and condom use, and limited financial resources for prevention and adequate information.
Asia's most seriously affected countries are Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and India, with some five million of India's one billion population now believed to be HIV positive. China had about 800,000 with HIV, but the real figure could be much higher.
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