‘Sex between men leading to new HIV infections in Asia’

July 13th, 2008 - 2:43 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, July 13 (IANS) Sex between men and the fact that gay relationships continue to be considered taboo in Asia could lead to an increase in HIV prevalence in the region, a report has said. According to it, same-sex monogamy is fairly rare in Asia because social taboos and discrimination mean many gay men also have sex with women and may also be married.

As a large number of gays have multiple partners and low condom use, it could lead to rise in HIV prevalence, said the report “Redefining AIDS in Asia, crafting an effective response” compiled by an independent commission on AIDS.

“In many Asian cities this has led to a rapid rise in HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men,” said the report, which was released last month by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The commission, comprising nine of Asia’s leading development economists, scientists and policy-makers working on AIDS, urged Asian countries to chart a new response to the disease.

“Though there is an emerging gay scene in some cities, same-sex monogamy remains relatively rare in Asia. Social taboos and discrimination means that many men who have sex with men still disguise their sexual preference by also having sex with women (in marriage or otherwise),” it added.

Men with many partners are more likely to encounter a newly-infected partner and become infected, and they are also more likely to spread the virus to a large number of other people, the report said.

It said that almost five million Asians are currently infected with HIV. In 2007, about 440,000 people were infected with HIV and 300,000 died of AIDS-related diseases.

It predicted that Asia’s HIV pandemic is now entering a second growth phase, which could push HIV prevalence to almost 10 million by 2020 if expanded prevention efforts are not introduced.

India accounts for roughly half the estimated HIV infected population of Asia with 2.5 million Indians estimated to be living with HIV in 2006. Twenty-six countries have been covered by the report.

Although three out of four adults living with HIV in Asia are men, the proportion of women has risen gradually - from 19 percent in 2000 to 24 percent in 2007, the commission said.

Most of these women got infected by having sex with husbands or boyfriends who were themselves infected during paid sex or through injecting drugs or had sex with men, it said.

Quoting reports of harassment of men who have sex with men, sex workers, and drug users as “common” across the region, it said that in most Asian countries sex work and sex between men are still considered illegal.

“The criminalisation of such activities clearly neutralizes otherwise supportive HIV policies, unless law enforcement agencies and the judiciary can be persuaded to cooperate with such policies,” it added.

They said the change could be achieved through “political leadership at the highest levels”.

“Hardly any country is devoting significant resources to programmes for men who have sex with men,” it said.

The extent of coverage is vital if prevention programmes are to be effective. When HIV prevention services have been provided in Asia to men who have sex with men, uptake of those services tends to be impressive, the report added.

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