By Kathleen Gilbert

HONG KONG, February 17, 2009 ( – Male homosexual sex is “fuelling” the rapid rise in HIV/AIDS infections in Asia, according to a recent report by the Western Pacific Branch of the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO warned today that the HIV/AIDS epidemic may take a major turn for the worse in Asia.

The central role of male homosexual sex in the HIV spread has prompted WHO’s Western Pacific office, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program, UNAIDS and the Hong Kong Department of Health, to implement AIDS prevention programs in light of the unique vulnerability of people with same-sex attractions.

“Studies show that at present, the proportion of HIV infections being transmitted among men who have sex with men is larger and more significant than we had originally believed,” said Dr Massimo Ghidinelli, WHO Regional Adviser in HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections. “Action needs to be taken now if a major increase in HIV/AIDS cases is to be averted. We need to target HIV prevention strategies, together with better access to health services, for men who have sex with men (MSM).”

The release cites a 2007 report showing an increase in AIDS infections across Asia, and mentions China in particular, where the risk of infection by active homosexual men is 45 times higher than for men in general. The WHO noted that Asia is thought to have the world’s largest number of actively homosexual men, estimated at 10 million.

China’s official news agency Xinhua also announced today that AIDS took more Chinese lives than any other deadly infectious disease last year. Xinhua said there were a total of 264,302 HIV/AIDS cases by the end of September last year. The United Nations estimates 700,000 Chinese were HIV positive by the end of 2007.

The organizers will meet with HIV/AIDS specialists from Asian governments, regional experts and representatives from nongovernment organizations from 18 to 20 February, when they will consider strategies to deliver better services to MSM communities.

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