Nation

Include gays in the fight against HIV

By Shan Juan and Xin Dingding (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-03-10 07:57
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Call to halt homosexual discrimination

BEIJING - A former senior health official has urged local health authorities to eliminate discrimination against gay men and to enlist their involvement in China's fight against HIV/AIDS.

The government is currently capable of reaching less than 10 percent of the country's gay population who are at high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, in order to intervene if an epidemic is in danger of breaking out, former vice-health minister Wang Longde told China Daily on the sidelines of the National People's Congress (NPC) session.

"The low intervention rate seriously undermines the nation's efforts to curb HIV/AIDS from spreading among the entire population, particularly when sex has become the primary means of new infections in the nation," he warned.

Only when 60 percent of high-risk groups like gay men are capable of being reached by effective interventions can the disease be prevented from spreading among the general public, according to the World Health Organization.

In recent years, while the infection rate of HIV/AIDS remained less than 0.1 percent for the entire Chinese population, gay men were particularly hard hit by the virus, with nearly 10 percent found to be HIV-positive in big cities, official statistics show.

As a result of family pressure and social stigma, more than 80 percent of gay men marry women in China, according to a widely-cited survey by Professor Zhang Beichuan, of Qingdao University's Medical School.

Seventy percent of gay men who took part in the survey had multiple sexual partners, while only 30 percent used condoms as a protective measure, which underlines Wang's call for effective intervention, as well as the need for support from within the gay community, to prevent the further spread of HIV/AIDS.

Backing the call, Zhang said: "As discrimination and stigma scares them away, health authorities at both central and local levels have to cooperate with the group to reverse the situation."

Hao Yao, deputy director of the disease prevention and control bureau under the Ministry of Health, said the government had already realized the need for support from within the gay community and acted accordingly.

In December, China's first government-funded gay bar opened in Dali, Yunnan province, with the support of local anti-AIDS organizations.

However, nationally, there is still a long way to go in the fight against gay discrimination, especially among health officials, Wang noted.

(China Daily 03/10/2010 page4)