HIV infection in Chinese gay men climbing at alarming rate

Troy Espera | October 26, 2006

The HIV infection rate among gay men in China is climbing at an alarming rate largely due to a lack of awareness about the disease.

The HIV infection rate is nearing 1.5 percent among sexually active homosexual men, Zhang Beichuan, a professor with Qingdao University's Medical School, told an anti-AIDS forum in Yichang, according to China Daily.

"The health authorities have to do something to curb the rising infection rate among gay men, who account for two to four percent of the sexually active adult male population," Zhang said, reports China Daily.

China's first, and most recent, official figure on male homosexuality was released in 2004, putting the total of gay men in the country at between five and ten million. Reuters reports that the Ministry of Health currently claims China has around 650,000 HIV carriers, which translates into an infection rate of 0.05 percent in the combined male and female population of 1.3 billion.

"We're now like Africa," Hao Yang, deputy director of disease control for the Ministry of Health, told Reuters, adding, "Last year, we found that 48 percent of those who were newly infected contracted the disease from sex, so it's not a disease that afflicts only high-risk groups."

To combat the spread of HIV, the Chinese government has made it mandatory for all entertainment venues to provide condoms, and methadone clinics have been established throughout the country, Reuters reports.

"We have to prepare for this," Hao told Reuters. "In a short time, we will sign some accords with these companies to bring in these drugs"

In his latest study in a northeast China city, Zhang found that only 20 percent of the 215 gay men he interviewed used condoms and 90 percent of them ruled out any likelihood of having contracted HIV.

And it seems a lack of general education is not to blame. "About half of them were college graduates," Zhang said, reports China Daily.

In a Beijing survey, only 15 percent of 482 sexually active gay men understood that they were at risk of contracting HIV, according to a 2005 report by the United Nations' UNAIDS.

An earlier report said 80 percent of China's gay men admitted knowing nothing about the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Homosexuality does remain a taboo subject in many sectors of Chinese society, but the general public is moving towards treating homosexuals as equals and protecting them from HIV/AIDS.

"Regardless of what people think, homosexuality is an inevitable social issue we have to face," said Shi Wei, a health official in Chaoyang District, which has both Beijing's largest white-collar and migrant population, to China Daily. – Issued by Gay Link Content

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