The new weapon in the fight against HIV


According to Tony Lisle, a regional adviser with UNAIDS, HIV infections are falling overall in Asia, yet rising among men who have sex with men.

“If we look at countries across the region, from China to Vietnam, HIV prevalence is declining in the general population, but among men who have sex with men there remains a very serious and concentrated epidemic. When we look at data for each city, we have an extraordinary rate of infection,” he said.

“The data gives us good reason to believe we are in crisis. It also tells us that prevention measures alone are not adequate to avert new HIV infections, particularly among young men.”

HIV prevention programmes are based on one key principle: encouraging consistent condom use.

Unless 80% of men are committed to use condoms in all sexual encounters, it’s impossible to stem new HIV infections, Mr Lisle said. UNAIDS research suggests the proportion who consistently do in Bangkok is just 68%. In Ho Chi Min City that figure stands at 35%, while only 25% consistently use condoms in Jarkata and 15% in Chennai.

“Bangkok is doing well, but not well enough,” Mr Lisle said. “If you’re not consistently using condoms, the chances are that you will get infected with HIV. It’s very difficult to prevent when condom use is not consistent.”

One of the issues is that condoms are not always available at the right time, for example in gay saunas, he said, adding that Asian countries are failing to deliver effective combination prevention programmes,which fuse a range of initiatives to tackle HIV.

However, Thailand is trying to buck that trend, with a drug proven to reduce HIV transmission in gay men and other high-risk groups.