MSM Given High Priority in HIV Prevention Strategy, Hong Kong Official Says
York Chow, Hong Kong's secretary for food and health, on Wednesday said that HIV prevention among men who have sex with men has been prioritized in the city's five-year HIV/AIDS strategy, which runs until 2011, Xinhuanet reports. According to Chow, HIV prevalence among MSM has been increasing dramatically in recent years, and male-to-male sexual contact is the source of transmission for about 30% of the 300 to 400 new cases of the virus reported annually (Xinhuanet , 2/18). Chow said most MSM do not know their HIV status and that an "important factor" contributing to the spread of HIV among the population is unprotected sex. He said, "Globally, risks and vulnerability to HIV infections are reinforced by a lack of knowledge, denial, inadequate access to treatment as well as social pressure arising from discrimination and even criminalization of sex among men" (Xinhuanet , 2/18).
Chow added that the Hong Kong government has implemented a multi-pronged approach for HIV prevention, which includes surveillance, prevention, health promotion, and treatment and care for people living with the virus. In addition, Hong Kong has established an AIDS Trust Fund with about $44.8 million in funding, which is "dedicated to funding various public education projects, patient support services undertaken by NGOs and academia," Chow said, adding, "Multi-partite partnership has been and will continue to be a key component of the AIDS program in Hong Kong."
Chow was speaking at the opening ceremonies for the World Health Organization's Technical Consultation on Health Sector Response to HIV/AIDS Among MSM, which was organized in partnership with Hong Kong's Department of Health, the United Nations Development Program and UNAIDS. Delegates from about 50 government officials responsible for HIV/AIDS and MSM programs, experts and representatives from non-governmental organizations are attending the conference. Official representatives from Australia, China, Cambodia, Fiji, Hong Kong, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Macao, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam also are attending (Xinhuanet , 2/18).
Ahead of the conference, Massimo Ghidinelli, WHO adviser on HIV/AIDS in the Western Pacific, said that HIV/AIDS cases among MSM in Asia could increase dramatically unless the group is given improved access to health services, AFP/Straits Times reports. "The proportion of HIV infections being transmitted among men who have sex with men is larger and more significant than we had originally believed," Ghidinelli said, adding, "Action needs to be taken now if a major increase in HIV/AIDS cases is to be averted. We need to target HIV prevention strategies, together with better access to health services, for men who have sex with men."
According to WHO estimates, Asia has the largest number of MSM worldwide at 10 million. A report from UNAIDS found that targeted prevention services reach only about 1% of the MSM and transgender population in the region (AFP/Straits Times, 2/17). According to WHO, this can be attributed to the stigma and discrimination associated with same-sex relationships among men. Discrimination also prevents MSM from disclosing their sexual practices or accessing HIV/AIDS services, which increases their risk of contracting the disease (Xu, Xinhuanet, 2/17). In addition, Ghidinelli said that many MSM face "breaches of human rights, including the right to better health."
A December 2007 report found that MSM were more likely to contract HIV than the general population in Cambodia and Vietnam and that the risk of HIV among MSM in China was 45 times higher than for men in general (AFP/Straits Times, 2/17).
Ghidinelli's statement is available online.