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Program Enlists Help of Gay Community

The country's first government-initiated program to eradicate HIV/AIDS among homosexual men will enlist help of its gay population.


The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said this week it is currently soliciting opinions on the project to be implemented by May.


A number of measures, including special funding, technical support and information sharing, are aimed at containing the spread of the virus, a growing threat among China's 20 million gays.


"It's cheering news for China's gay community, 47,000 of whom are HIV positive or AIDS patients," Xiao Dong, who heads a Beijing-based information support group, told China Daily.


"The government is beginning to take the long-neglected segment of people into the general roadmap to combat the soaring pandemic," Xiao continued.


Statistics from the CDC show that the virus has been increasingly spreading among gay men and the number of sufferers has doubled since 2004.


More than half of gay men are believed to have multiple sex partners and many also have female partners, which increases the spread of HIV.


To help reduce the spread, officials hope to increase the availability of condoms and lubricant to 70 percent of gay men.


Currently only 10-20 percent of them use condoms, according to national CDC figures.


Apart from low awareness of self-protection, the lack of condom available at gay-frequented places is also a problem.


"Not a single condom vending machine can be found in Dongdan Park, a well-known gay park in downtown Beijing, let alone small and secret gay bars and bathrooms," Xiao noted.


As a result, many gays engage in unprotected sex due to a shortage of condoms. To date, only one Guilin-based condom-maker produces condoms tailored for gays.


Another goal of the project is to build a national network to promote the sale and distribution of condoms and lubricant products.


Gay volunteer organizations should help promote condom use and play a strong role in helping to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, Xiao said.


Faced with an HIV/AIDS epidemic, China should tap more into the country's social resources, according to the program.


Gay men, who constitute 7.3 percent of the total HIV/AIDS sufferers in China, or an estimated 650,000 in 2005, will be the first group asked to the join the effort.


There are 117 anti-HIV/AIDS grassroots organizations for gay men, said the health ministry. Fifty percent are headed by gay volunteers.


Peer education, a hotline and community activities are suggested as effective ways to reach the vulnerable population. Members of the gay community will be encouraged to play a strong role.


"In that way, the national war against HIV/AIDS is more likely to win," said Jing Jun, director with AIDS Policy Research Center at Tsinghua University.


Financial aid, training and relaxed registration rules for organizations such as gay volunteer groups are to be put in place soon.


(China Daily April 14, 2007)

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