Asian Health Officials Warn That Without Intervention, HIV Cases Will Increase Among MSM in Region
Asian health officials on Wednesday at a World Health Organization conference in Hong Kong said that the region is facing a resurgence of HIV cases among men who have sex with men that will not subside without increased government efforts, the New Straits Times reports (Freeda, New Straits Times, 2/19). The conference was organized in partnership with Hong Kong's Department of Health, the United Nations Development Program and UNAIDS and included about 50 government officials responsible for HIV/AIDS and MSM programs, as well as other experts.
According to officials at the conference, discriminatory laws, stigma, low condom use, multiple sex partners and limited health care access are contributing to the spread of HIV among MSM in the region (Chui, The Standard, 2/19). WHO regional adviser Massimo Ghidinelli said, "Studies show that at present, the proportion of HIV infections being transmitted among men who have sex with men is larger and more significant than we had originally believed" (New Straits Times, 2/19). Shivananda Khan, a representative with the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health, said, "We are facing an emerging catastrophe. Unless we intervene now, the level of infection over the next 20 years will double every year and the number of the (affected) MSM and transgender people will be more than any other population in this region." York Chow Yat-ngok, Hong Kong's secretary for food and health, said that there has been a "rapid rise" of HIV cases among MSM and that HIV prevalence among this population is 10 times that of other high-risk groups, including sex workers and injection drug users. He added that a lack of knowledge and limited access to treatment also increases the risk of HIV among MSM. Director of Health Lam Ping Yan attributed the rise in HIV cases among MSM in part to the increased use of online dating services and psychotropic substances.
Edmund Settle, an HIV/AIDS policy specialist, said "Discriminatory laws, attitude and behavior are undermining effective programming and limiting access to health services," adding that they must be "challenged and revised" at the earliest opportunity (The Standard, 2/19). Ghidinelli said that improving surveillance and providing HIV prevention and care to MSM should be prioritized to help curb the spread of HIV/AIDS (New Straits Times, 2/19).