Sat, Jul 31, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Cooperation needed to fight HIV

By Toby Lincoln

At the Bangkok conference on HIV/AIDS earlier this month, China was among those countries that agreed the disease poses a serious threat to stability in Asia. Their position was made public when Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) shook hands with an AIDS patient last year. In Taiwan, a similar view prevails, as expressed by delegates at the 7th Taipei conference on HIV/AIDS who called for the government to do more to prevent the spread of HIV.

The disease is a problem common in both China and Taiwan, and closer cooperation between the two countries would save lives as well as extend goodwill across the Taiwan Strait. For this to happen there needs to be a commitment from both sides to depoliticize this issue and a recognition that the fight against the disease must be made at the regional level. China's efforts to cope with the spread of HIV/AIDS should be commended while the deficiencies in its approach should be seen as opportunities for cooperation -- rather than objects of criticism.

Its efforts have been significant. In 1998, China established the "Long and Medium Term Plan for HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control." Under this, a host of measures have been introduced to record the spread of the disease and pilot projects in high risk areas such as Yunnan and Sichuan are now being implemented nationwide.

The most recent UN report on China recognizes the anti-HIV/AIDS measures taken thus far, but calls for more action, including the massive increase in spending on prevention and treatment.

There should be no doubt as to the severity of HIV/AIDS as a developmental problem in China. The spread of the virus in eastern cities, however, follows a pattern similar to that of Taiwan. One group most at risk in China are homosexuals.

It is estimated that 49 percent of HIV-positive people in Taiwan are from the gay community. The risk is compounded by the prejudice that still exists in Asia against gays, a prejudice that is stronger in China -- which only recently took homosexuality off its list of mental health diseases. Despite moves to allow gay marriages, the recent humiliation of the gay community by police in Taiwan were shows that further work is needed.

As far as HIV/AIDS among homosexuals is concerned, Taiwan has made some gains, and it is the information and experience in this country which would be useful in China. Condoms are being distributed to men in popular gay night spots by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), while the Taipei Venereal Disease Control Institute placed condom machines in the 228 Peace Park.

Recently, an award was given to the Gender/Sexuality Rights association of Taiwan by The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. The Association's work educating homosexuals as to the risks of HIV/AIDS included talks at the Taipei City Center. This grassroots activity, combined with the government's determination to fight HIV/AIDS, along with attempts to integrate the gay community into society should serve as examples to the cities on China's east coast.

There is very little being done in eastern China to deal with the spread of HIV/AIDS in the gay community. Especially worrying is the lack of information on HIV/AIDS rates among homosexuals in China. According to a survey conducted in Beijing, in 2001, infection rates hovered around a staggering 4 to 5 percent.

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