Washington – The United States’ capital, Washington D.C., has played host to an international conference looking at the problem of AIDS and trying to find ways to combat it.

It’s the first time in 22 years that America has hosted the event, thanks to the US President Barack Obama who lifted a ban that prevented people with HIV travelling to the country.

After sub-Saharan Africa, the Asia-Pacific region has the second highest number of people infected with HIV – around 4.2 million.

With the global HIV epidemic growing every day of every year, the conference was an opportunity to work out what the future holds.

Particularly important for the Asia-Pacific region as new infections are growing at an alarming rate where more than 800 people become infected with the virus every day.

The situation in Papua New Guinea is now considered to be as bad as parts of Africa where infections are increasing with prevention proving extremely difficult.

The delegation from Indonesia hopes the conference will give them new ideas.

Dr Samual Baso, Indonesia delegate, said: “We come here to know a new message, new information about HIV/AIDS especially for prevention, treatment and many more.”

The networking opportunities that the conference offered were all very well, but HIV advocates from Asia said their countries have hurdles to overcome.

One of the main problems Mags Lopez, from the Philippines, finds, in the Catholic-dominated society is persuading men to wear condoms, thereby reducing the chance of contracting the virus.

New infections in the Philippines have increased by 25 per cent.

Mags Lopez said: “Responsible sexuality through the use of condoms is quite possible within the teachings of the Catholic church. There’s actually nothing wrong with it and it’s within the principals of the Catholic church teachings.”

Masaki Ogama from Japan said many ‘MSMs’ – men who have sex with men – don’t like to reveal that they are gay as treatment is difficult.

Masaki Ogama said: “We have a lot of programmes for ‘MSMs’ but the programmes reached (those who are) openly gay.”

Same-sex relationships are also still illegal in 19 Asia-Pacific countries, making it very difficult for some people to get help.

Dr Paul De Lay, deputy executive director of UNAIDS, said: “There’s still a huge amount of stigma surrounding HIV in the region. A huge amount of stigma about risk behaviour and that has been the major block to getting to these key populations and providing them with the information services and the health services they need.”

The conference focused on the new science using anti-retro viral drugs, not just as treatment but also as prevention.

But leaders felt if these new medicines are to work, they need to be used in conjunction with a new cultural awareness – where people can talk openly about their sexuality and their HIV status without fear of prejudice of reprisals. – CNA/ck, http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/southeastasia/view/1216258/1/.html