HIV Prevalence High Among MSM in Asia-Pacific Countries, Lack of Government Resources, Stigma, Ignorance Primary Causes, Report Finds
The stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, lack of government action and ignorance about transmission of the infection have contributed to high HIV prevalence in Asia-Pacific countries among men who have sex with men, according to a report released Friday ahead of the XVI Annual International AIDS Conference in Toronto, the AFP/Yahoo! News reports (AFP/Yahoo! News, 8/11). The 85-page report, titled "MSM and HIV/AIDS Risk in Asia," was published by TREAT Asia -- an initiative of amfAR that includes a network of clinics, hospitals and research institutions that advocate for safe and effective delivery of HIV/AIDS treatments throughout Asia and the Pacific (Macon-Markar, Inter Press News Service, 8/11). The report is based on several related studies, epidemiological data and 45 interviews by HIV/AIDS researchers, counselors and government officials in 19 Asia-Pacific countries, AFP/Yahoo! News report. HIV prevalence among MSM is as high as 14% in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; 16% in Andhra Pradesh, India; and 28% in Bangkok, Thailand, the report says (AFP/Yahoo! News, 8/11). According to the report, consistent use of condoms is as low as 12% among MSM, and up to 50% of all MSM in several regions have never used a condom, Inter Press News Service reports. Still, the majority of these men "believe that they are at low risk" for HIV, the report finds. About half or more of these men "also have sex with women ... (due to) situational sex (or) the social pressure to marry ... and can then serve as a bridge population for HIV/AIDS infection," the report says (Inter Press News Service, 8/11). The report also notes that sex between men is more common in certain professions, with 49% of truck drivers surveyed in Lahore, Pakistan, and 22% of rickshaw drivers in Bangladesh reporting having had sex with other men. Only about 2% of MSM in 16 Asia-Pacific countries have access to prevention programs and condoms, the report finds (Mason, AP/Sydney Morning Herald, 8/13). The prevalence of HIV among MSM in Asia is attributed to a lack of government action, stigma, "misconceptions about risk factors, high levels of unprotected anal intercourse, high level[s] of transactional sex, [and] high numbers of sex partners," according to the report.
Kevin Frost, director of TREAT Asia, said, "Given the difficulty of surveillance in these populations, rates of HIV infection could actually be far worse. The report shines a light on the extent of high-risk MSM behavior and serves [as] a wake-up call for Asia" (Inter Press News Service, 8/11). Frost called on governments in the region and international donors to support "appropriate prevention, care and treatment efforts for MSM populations or [else] face a spiraling epidemic that could be far worse than any seen in gay communities in the West" (AFP/Yahoo! News, 8/11). The report is expected to generate "debate" at this year's AIDS conference, "where the once marginalized issue" of MSM has moved to "mainstream discussions," the Inter Press News Service reports (Inter Press News Service, 8/11). UNAIDS estimates that 8.3 million of 38.6 million people with HIV last year lived in Asia and that about 930,000 of the 4.1 million people globally who contracted HIV in 2005 live in Asia (AFP/Yahoo! News, 8/11).
Reuters Examines Sexual Taboos in China
"[C]onservative attitudes and an unwillingness to talk about sex" in China are fueling the spread of HIV in the country, Reuters reports. "Sex is taboo, and condoms have mainly been used as part of family planning rather than for safe sex," Lee Folland, a graduate student at Cambridge University, which is conducting research on the social marketing of condoms in China, said. According to Reuters, condoms and safer sex information usually are not provided in bars or saunas frequented by MSM. Volunteer groups, outreach programs and recent government action have increased education efforts, but "even that information can sometimes be too tame to include pictures of how a condom is used," Reuters reports. According to a UNAIDS survey conducted in Beijing in 2005, 15% of 482 MSM surveyed knew that they were at risk of contracting HIV, and about 49% reported having had unprotected anal intercourse with men in the past six months (Blanchard/Ee Lyn, Reuters, 8/11).
Kaisernetwork.org is serving as the official webcaster of the conference. View the guide to coverage and all webcasts, interviews and a daily video round up of conference highlights at http://www.kaisernetwork.org/aids2006.