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Gay men in Asia
are particularly vulnerable to HIV

Gay men in Asia
are particularly vulnerable to HIV

In Kobe, Japan, at the Seventh International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, officials said discrimination against men who have sex with men in the region is increasing their vulnerability to HIV infection. Steve Wignall of Family Health International said that while there is a dearth of accurate statistics on the issue, some surveys have found that the rate of HIV infections among gay and bisexual men was nearly 20% in Thailand, 14% in Cambodia, and 8% in Vietnam. Reaching this population is difficult due to social stigma and also because it includes men who sell sex to other men but do self-identify as gay or bisexual.

Most Asian HIV prevention programs focus on heterosexuals, such as female sex workers. It is time for governments to begin education and treatment programs targeting gay and bisexual men, Wignall said, and to distribute condoms in the gay community.

Yet many challenges confront such an effort. The government of Vietnam does not formally recognize that gay communities exist and depicts homosexuality as a "social evil," said Le Cao Dung of the Ho Chi Minh City provincial AIDS committee. Similar problems exist in China, while civil strife in Nepal puts public health workers at risk.

In Japan, gay and bisexual men account for the majority of the nation's 12,000 HIV cases, but gay men and lesbians are largely ignored and find speaking out difficult, said Hiromi Hatogai of the Japanese outreach group OCCUR. (AP)

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