Aids in Asia – One in 5 Asian gays has HIV

First Published – 31 Jul 2008

Top UN officials urge for more preventive action

UNITED NATIONS— HIV infection rates among gay men in many parts of Asia are as severe as those which devastated homosexual communities in the United States in the late ’80s, said top officials of the United Nations Aids agency Unaids.

Launching his agency’s 2008 report on the global Aids epidemic, Mr Peter Piot, executive director of Unaids, urged more action to prevent the spread of the disease among gay men who have unsafe sex. He also stressed the importance of working with affected communities.

Mr Piot said: “All over Asia there are now epidemics of HIV in men who have sex with men, at the same magnitude that we saw in this country 25 years ago. There is not enough action yet but we are now starting programmes.”

Mr Paul De Lay, director of Evidence, Monitoring and Policy at Unaids, said the HIV epidemic among gay communities in Asia had recently reached the levels seen in cities such as San Francisco at the end of the 1980s when HIV infections reached their peak.

He said it could be due to a number of factors, including less funding for programmes that target men who have sex with men, and the fact that there were new groups who were less aware of the risks of unprotected sex.

“The epidemic in these populations started in the mid-’90s. What we see now is a resurgence.

“There are countries where the percentage of people infected are similar to what we were seeing in San Francisco or in Berlin or in London where up to 15 to 20 per cent of men who have sex with men are HIV positive,” he added. The report meanwhile noted that unprotected sex between men was a “potentially significant but under-researched aspect of the HIV epidemics in Asia”, citing countries such as Thailand and Vietnam.

Mr De Lay said there were also high infection rates among gay populations in cities such as Chennai and Mumbai in India and in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta.

He added that these communities often faced homophobia from the wider population, as well as discrimination from healthcare providers, which discouraged them from seeking information and getting tested.

“Even without blatant national laws that criminalize homosexual behaviour, you can still have a gradation of policies and practices that can be almost as bad,” he said.

“We can never let our guard down as far as prevention, that the epidemic will come creeping back if there isn’t this constant attention being paid to it.” AFP