TAIPEI, Taiwan: – While the number of HIV/AIDS cases in Taiwan has tripled over the past six years, the nation’s political situation has left it “out in the cold” on international funding to combat the disease.
That is the word from Dr. Joseph Limoli Deyama, a Stanford University-trained, retired plastic reconstructive surgeon, who volunteers internationally with people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA).
He says that Taiwan does not get any of the millions of dollars and actual physical help its Asian neighbours get from the United Nations, World Bank, the Gates and Clinton foundations.
Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations or the World Health Organization, which considers the island of 23 million people a part of China, which lays a similar claim.
“China, though insisting that Taiwan is a province of the mother country, and despite receiving dozens of millions of dollars of international aid, gives none of that help to Taiwan,” Dr. Deyama said.
“Taiwan is literally NOT on the map for international aid agencies and not even on the map for China,” he wrote in a paper on the heels of the ninth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) in Indonesia recently.
“This means that the vast majority of support, education and, perhaps most pressingly, shelter must be provided by the Taiwan government and/or through individual and community efforts.
“Currently these efforts have not been adequate,” he explained.
The five-day conference was held under the theme “Empowering People, Strengthening Networks” and heard inspirational examples of successful battles against HIV/AIDS.
“In Asia, the AIDS pandemic continues to spread and grow….Taiwan is no exception,” Dr. Deyama said, adding that Asia is home to about six million of the 40 millions PLHA internationally.
He said that 500,000 die of AIDS annually in Asia.
HIV/AIDS in Taiwan
According to Centres for Disease Control (Taiwan) statistics, as of August 31, 2009, there were a total of 18,538 reported cases of HIV/AIDS in Taiwan since 1984, including 712 foreigners.
This compares to a total of 5,650 reported cases at the end of 2003, including 429 foreigners.
Some 2,443 persons, or 13 percent of all individuals confirmed to have had the disease, have since died.
The figures show that the disease is most prevalent among the 20 to 29 age group, which accounts for 37.13 percent of all infections. This is followed closely by the 30 to 39 age group, 35.79 percent. (Read more Taiwan HIV/AIDS stats )
Dr. Deyama said that while the 18,538 confirmed HIV/AIDS cases in Taiwan since 1984 might not at first seem dramatic, “the most frightening figures are seen when the number of recently diagnosed cases are compared with the total case for the past few years”.
“In actuality, this may even be worse since the figures are not approved by any [international organisation] such as the United Nations or the World Health Organization,” Dr. Deyama said.
Discrimination, stigmatization, and criminalization of the highest risk groups and the lack of adequate and safe support for the patients were severe barriers to fighting HIV/AIDS in Asia, he said.
According to Dr. Deyama, intravenous drug abusers (IVDAs) are increasing in Taiwan, with heroin more readily and inexpensively available, mainly from Afghanistan.
He said that since the practise is illegal in Taiwan, many IVDAs stay underground and share needles, exposing them to HIV/AIDS.
He added that that several countries have de-criminalized intravenous drug abuse, making it a medical condition rather than a crime.
“Because of this, the spread of HIV/AIDS have lessened considerably.”
He said that the HIV/AIDS situation in Taiwan is further compounded “by the severe stigmatization and discrimination against gay men, “causing many gay men not to seek diagnosis or help even if given for free”.
He said that an increasing number of teenagers and persons under 25 were becoming sexually active.
“Like their Japanese counterparts, the percentage of teenagers having one-night-stands are increasing and casual sex has more than quadrupled in the past few years, especially with the help of the internet,” said Dr. Deyama, who was born in Japan.
“Needless to say, condom usage amongst this group is extremely low,” he further said, adding that “Taiwanese working men have Asia’s worst rate of using condoms.”
“When you put all these major factors together, Taiwan has a potential tidal wave or tsunami-type situation. The wave has already begun to grow.”
Dr. Deyama said that the Taiwanese government was making an effort to help by providing anti-retroviral (ARV) medication.
He however identified a need to provide good physical shelter and living support for adults and children infected with or affected by HIV.
He described as “another positive occurrence” the passing of an amended “HIV Prevention and Protection of Patients Rights Act.”
The law makes it illegal to discriminate against PLHA with regards to residence, education, hospitalization and employment.
He however said that children from Harmony Home, a residence for person affected by HIV/AIDS, were recently asked to leave their school when it became known that they were HIV positive.
“Their fellow students and their parents actually boycotted the school to make certain the child was not allowed in the school,” he said.
Dr. Deyama said that the meeting in Indonesia has shown that many Asian nations face similar challenges.
“Only through persistent education, sharing and community network building were they slowly able to change the attitude of an entire nation,” he said.