China's Gay Men Told to Face up to Responsibilities
    2010-07-30 20:38:42     Xinhua      Web Editor: Jiang Aitao
 

A leading international expert on HIV/AIDS Friday challenged China's gay men to front up to their responsibilities in fighting the spread of the disease.

Dr. Ray Yip, director of the China Program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said the spread of HIV/AIDS in China through homosexual sex was "one of the biggest emerging challenges" to controling the disease.

Dr. Yip told CNC World, the satellite news television station run by Xinhua News Agency, that HIV transmission through "MSM" (men having sex with men) had boomed since 2003.

This year, the Beijing Municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced sexual activity between men and men had become the main channel of HIV transmission in the city, exceeding both heterosexual sex and drug use.

Poor awareness of safe sex among gay men contributed to the sharp rise as many gay men had multiple sex partners, and did not always use condoms.

"We need the MSM group to engage their community to take part in the intervention," Dr. Yip told CNC.

"Will they promote safe sex? Will they be promoting early testing? Will they be supporting people already with HIV? So the key is their involvement in the prevention."

Social pressures forced many HIV carriers to remain hidden, and many were reluctant to admit they were HIV carriers, said Dr. Yip.

They need to show their faces and let their voices be heard, said Dr. Yip.

Homosexuals, sex workers, drug abusers and underground blood donors were all most at risk of infection and the biggest danger to others.

"The prevention of the spread of HIV, regardless of which group, drug users, sex workers or men having sex with men, is the same," Dr. Yip said.

"The key thing is that the high risk behavior needs to be reduced.

"It is those people who don't know they are HIV carriers are dangerous. We need to find them," said Dr. Yip.

However, he said, "China represents one of the few countries in Asia that really takes AIDS seriously."

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had committed 50 million U.S. dollars to support HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in China, supporting both governmental and non-governmental programs focused on the "priorities": prevention services for high-risk groups, HIV testing, prevention and support for people living with HIV, and stigma reduction.

"We fund government programs in about 15 cities across China to work with NGOs who fund high-risk communities, such as MSM, to mobilize and develop their capacity to do the prevention," Dr. Yip said.

The foundation, which cooperates closely with China's Ministry of Health (MOH), was supporting groups that promoted "peer education" such as Zhitong, a volunteer organization.

Luo, the head of Zhitong programs who would only give his surname, said, "We give away condoms and brochures in gay bars and parks, set up a free hotline, and conduct salons or lectures regularly."

The organization, which is financially supported by the Gates foundation and local health agencies, has more than 200 volunteers and claims to have contacted at least 60,000 people.

MOH figures showed that by the end of last year, MSM transmission accounted for 32.5 percent of China's total HIV/AIDS infections, up from only 0.4 percent in 2005.

China had 740,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, 105,000 of whom had AIDS by the end of 2009, MOH data showed.

The Chinese government has lifted the 20-year-old ban on entry of foreigners with HIV/AIDS in a move to eliminate unequal treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Since the end of 2003, the government has carried out a policy of free blood tests for those with HIV, free education for orphans of AIDS patients, and free consultation, scanning tests and anti-virus therapies for pregnant women.

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