China: higher HIV infection rate among gay men

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YICHANG, Hubei Province, Oct. 21 (Xinhua) -- 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, according to an expert on homosexual studies.

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.

"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.

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. 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.

In his latest study in a northeast China city, Zhang found that only 20 percent of the 215 gay men he interviewed used condoms and90 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.

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.

The fact that gay men are often forced into heterosexual marriages worsens the situation, said Prof. Zhang, one of the few experts on homosexuality in China. "More people will be affected if no action is taken quickly."

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.

Earlier this year, the Disease Prevention and Control Center of Chaoyang District opened a forum for homosexuals on its official website.

"Forum for Comrades" -- named after the slang term used by gay men -- is aimed at providing a platform for gay men to share their emotions and experiences, and for health advisors to offer counseling and advice on AIDS.

"It's a sign that homosexuals have begun to be accepted by the public," said Prof. Zhang. "It will also help protect this vulnerable group from HIV/AIDS."

In 2003, China sent the first group of gay volunteers to cities around China to help promote AIDS awareness among homosexuals.

Now, 20 large and medium-sized cities have a special working team, consisting of gay volunteers and health specialists, which teaches sexually active gay men how to protect themselves.

Zhang believes that gay women are less at risk from contracting HIV than gay men. "As women tend to be more careful, lesbians in general are less at risk from HIV/AIDS."

There are no official statistics detailing the number of lesbians in China but Zhang estimates that there are around ten million.

The HIV infection rate is still highest among intravenous drug users and was nearly five percent in 2000, the most recent data available.

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This page contains a single entry by ID Admin published on October 21, 2006 3:50 PM.

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