Subject: AFP: East Timor sliding towards AIDS disaster: Minister

East Timor sliding towards AIDS disaster: Minister

AFP [ FRIDAY, JULY 05, 2002 11:11:12 PM ]

GENEVA: East Timor's Health Minister, Rui Maria de Araujo, warned Friday that his newly-independent country was in danger of an AIDS epidemic, saying its low official figures were "just the tip of the iceberg".

"All the necessary ingredients are there -- poverty, street children, unemployment and prostitution," the minister declared in a statement published on an UN web site, calling for immediate measures to fight the disease.

His statement comes just ahead of an international conference on AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) which opens in the Spanish city of Barcelona on July 7

"AIDS prevalence in East Timor is currently very low, at 0.64 percent, but inadequate testing and insufficient research so far means that the problem could be much more serious than it appears," he said.

"I think the low prevalence we are talking about is just the tip of the iceberg. That is why we are doing all we can to get everyone in the country involved -- civil society, the church, parliament and right up to the president himself."

With the help of the United Nations Development Program and Australia, a strategy to combat AIDS has been devised and is expected to be approved by the East Timorese cabinet, the minister said.

An information campaign is to be launched, along with distribution of condoms and a AIDS testing program, he said.

According to an UN report on AIDS released Tuesday, the overall Asia-Pacific region is threatened with an AIDS catastrophe, with millions of new infections reported in the last year.

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