If left unchecked, HIV has the potential to seriously destabilise the whole Asia-Pacific region, even to destroy nation states, a leading expert has warned.

Professor Dennis Altman, who has been campaigning for both gay rights and HIV prevention in the Asia-Pacific region for more than a decade, will address the Australian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM) conference with this chilling message next week.

His paper will argue that AIDS is a greater threat to global security than war or terrorism.

The growing spread of HIV in the Asia-Pacific, in particular its rapid growth in major countries such as India, China and Indonesia, has major implications for the stability and cohesion of the region, and by implication for global stability, Altman said.

The evidence from southern Africa, and in our region from Thailand and Cambodia, is sufficient to establish the argument that unchecked HIV has the potential to literally destroy nation states.

[But] the impetus for recognising HIV as a first order threat -¦ seems to have declined since the events of September 11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Altman pointed out that a major problem in Asia was the inequality in access to information and prevention, often perpetuated in the name of culture, religion and tradition.

Whether it is Catholic and Islamic opposition to condom promotion, or refusal to discuss homosexuality or adolescent sexuality in the name of protecting -˜African’ or -˜Asian’ cultural norms, the reality is that millions of infections are occurring because the measures which would prevent them, which are far cheaper and less technologically difficult than providing anti-retroviral treatments, are not in place.

Next week’s ASHM Confer-ence will have HIV/AIDS in the Asia-Pacific region as a major focus.

Incoming ASHM president Liz Dax, whose expertise is in quality control in HIV blood testing, said Australia needs to be doing more in the region in this and other areas.

Australia has an excellent record in these areas, and we have an obligation to take this expertise to countries in our region. We need appropriate funding to do this.

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