Peter Piot, head of the U.N. AIDS Agency UNAIDS, spoke to leaders of several Asian nations at the World Economic Forum in Dalian, China, today requesting that they step up their reaction to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. He advocated that officials in countries such as Papua New Guinea, India, Malaysia and Nepal face the global AIDS epidemic head on, claiming that the subject of HIV/AIDS was being driven underground because of stigma and conservative attitudes. Piot also highlighted how the spread of the virus is tied to the region’s rapid economic development, its rapidly evolving societies and its highly mobile and newly rich populations.

Piot called on the political will of leaders to help bring the subject of HIV/AIDS out into the open and urged leaders to be more courageous when it comes to embracing prevention and education programs that could reach Asia’s most marginalized populations. As of 2005, there were 8.3 million people in Asia living with HIV; of those, only one in six were receiving treatment.