Laws against same-sex relations continue to stymie efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in Asia-Pacific, experts said at a recent conference in Bangkok. The independent Global Commission on HIV and the Law hosted the meeting as a regional dialogue on legal barriers to HIV prevention.
"It is a specific legacy of the British Empire," said Michael Kirby, an Australian jurist associated with the commission. "Of the 54 commonwealth countries [worldwide], 41 still have laws on gay sex crimes."
AIDS experts are lining up to pressure 19 Asian countries to repeal their anti-gay laws, saying they fuel HIV disparities seen in many Asian cities and communities of men who have sex with men (MSM). By 2020, about 46 percent of new HIV infections in Asia will be among MSM, up three-fold from 13 percent in 2008, according to the World Health Organization. In affluent Singapore and Hong Kong, male-to-male sex already leads as the mode of transmission, UNAIDS said.
The disparity is seen in Rangoon, where MSM account for 29.3 percent of new HIV cases, compared to 0.7 percent for the general population; in Mumbai, where 17 percent of MSM have HIV versus 0.36 percent for the general population; Hanoi, 9.4 percent of MSM versus 0.5 percent generally; and Jakarta, 8.1 percent MSM versus 0.2 percent for the general population. In Thailand, MSM account for 30.8 percent of new infections, compared with a 1.4 percent general prevalence.
A far deeper cultural challenge is the large number of MSM who do not self-identify as gay: Nearly 40 percent to 50 percent of MSM are married, the regional commission said.
"It is very important to make the point that AIDS is not a gay epidemic," Kirby cautioned conference attendees.