Gay men fuelling HIV/AIDS spread in Asia, says WHO

February 17th, 2009 - 7:06 pm ICT by IANS  

Manila, Feb 17 (DPA) The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned Tuesday that unprotected male-to-male sex was fuelling the spread of HIV and AIDS in Asia, where the epidemic could worsen amid a lack of services to gays.
“Men who have sex with men have been identified as one of the most at-risk populations for HIV/AIDS,” the Manila-based WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific said in a statement ahead of a meeting in Hong Kong.

“Asia is believed to have the world’s largest number of men having sex with men, estimated at 10 million,” the office added.

WHO noted that a review in December 2007 of the HIV/AIDS situation in Asia showed that in Cambodia and Vietnam, men who have sex with men were more likely to contract the deadly virus compared with the general population.

The risk of infection was also 45 times higher for men who have sex with men in China.

“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 what we originally believed,” said Massimo Ghidinelli, WHO regional AIDS adviser.

“Action needs to be taken now if a major increase in HIV/AIDS cases is to be averted,” he said. “We need to target HIV-prevention strategies, together with better access to health services, for men who have sex with men.”

The latest UNAIDS report showed that targeted prevention interventions are reaching one percent of the gay population.

The report also showed that in most Asia-Pacific countries, national strategic plans for HIV/AIDS do not cover interventions for men having sex with men and transgender individuals.

WHO said the lack of access to HIV/AIDS services can be traced to stigma and discrimination associated with homosexuality, which is frowned upon in some societies in the region.

HIV/AIDS specialists from Asian governments and regional health experts plan to meet in Hong Kong this week to address the crisis. The conference is organised by the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific, the UN Development Programme, UNAIDS and the Hong Kong Department of Health.

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