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Gay men get fast HIV tests in Hangzhou
By Shao Xiaoyi (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-08-09 08:29

The city has conducted China's first HIV tests and counselling in gay bars to provide effective HIV prevention.

More than 60 gay men have accepted the HIV rapid testing, with over 3 per cent being found HIV positive.

This is a result of an HIV prevention programme launched in early March by the Zhejiang Provincial Health Bureau and the Howard Brown Health Centre, the largest private provider of HIV/AIDS services in the midwestern United States.

In this programme, free HIV rapid testing and counselling are provided in the gay bars and recreational centres in Hangzhou and Ningbo, cities in East China's Zhejiang Province.

"The purpose of the programme is to prevent the spread of HIV among the gay population and the population at risk," said Keith JWaterbrook, executive director of the Howard Brown Health Centre.

Tests are conducted every Saturday night at gay bars, while brochures promoting safe sex are also distributed, Waterbrook said.

The result can be found from rapid HIV testing in 20 minutes. If someone tests positive, they must go to the hospital for a confirmatory blood test which is more definitive.

Xu Yi, one of the experts conducting the tests and counselling in the gay bars, said some of the gay men do not dare to take the test for fear of knowing the result, while others insist they could not be infected with HIV as they have established sexual partners, while still others are unconcerned about becoming infected, as they believe they have already been discarded by mainstream society.

About 80 per cent of the gay men do not use condoms, according to research conducted by Xu.

"Most of them know that they are at high risk of acquiring or transmitting the HIV infection and it is our responsibility to help them protect their own health and prevent transmission to others," Xu said.

There are now around 10,000 gay men in urban Hangzhou, Xu says.

"HIV testing and counselling are a big step in preventing the spread of HIV, but it is not the only step," said Waterbrook, adding that another very important step is to develop counselling programmes and support groups for those people who test positive.

Three physicians from Zhejiang Province will come to Howard Brown Health Centre in the middle of this month for one month of training on the latest HIV medical treatment protocols using the latest drugs.

Some drug companies will provide free state-of-the-art drugs and laboratory testing equipment and supplies to Zhejiang Province to initially establish a model HIV/AIDS prevention system in Zhejiang Province, he added.

"We will continue to provide training at Howard Brown Health Centre for people in Zhejiang Province until the threat of HIV disappears, which may mean many years," Waterbrook says.

The next step in the programme is to develop this system within the provincial and municipal health bureaux which will be organized and run by a gay man, knowledgeable about the situation, to provide ongoing counselling, to talk with people about their options, to reinforce adherence to medical treatment regimes and to develop support groups composed of HIV-positive gay men.

This step means that the Zhejiang Provincial Health Bureau will need to hire an openly gay man who can provide these functions in the near future, according to Waterbrook.

Statistics from the bureau show that since 1985, when the first HIV carrier was found in Zhejiang Province, a total of 686 HIV carriers have been found in the province, among whom 110 are AIDS patients.

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