News / Asia

Study Links Discrimination of Homosexuals With Rising HIV Cases in Asia

Angela Dewan

The United Nations says discriminatory laws and human rights violations against homosexual men in Asia limit access to health care services and contribute to rising HIV infection rates.

At the International AIDS Conference in Vienna, the U.N. Development Program and the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health presented a study that linked the criminalization of homosexual behavior to an increase in the infection rate of HIV and AIDS in Asia.  The study says 19 Asian countries still criminalize men who have sex with men and the prevalence of HIV in these groups has reached alarming levels.

More likely to contract HIV

According to UNAIDS, in China, homosexual men are 45 times more likely to contract HIV than the average Chinese person.  And the report says more than 90 percent of homosexual men in the Asia-Pacific region do not have access to HIV prevention and care.

The report points to a range of laws, such as public order and vagrancy offenses, that are selectively enforced against men who have sex with men and transgender people in many countries of the region.

And some homosexual men and transgenders feel uncomfortable accessing health services because they fear being reported to authorities said UNDP HIV policy specialist Edmund Settle.

"If MSM (homosexual) or transgender people are carrying condoms, either because they are outreach workers or they use condoms in their sexual practices, than the local authorities would use the possession of a condom as evidence of either being in prostitution or having access or going to approach prostitutes.  And again these laws are specifically enforced on MSM and transgender persons in many of the local communities," Settle said.

High risk group

According to the report, 22 countries in the Asia Pacific region now list homosexual men in Asia as a high-risk group for contracting HIV.  Settle said some countries such as India are beginning to address this growing problem.  
In 2009 the Delhi High Court ruled that the Indian Penal Code unfairly discriminated against homosexual men.

"What it has done, which has given us a better opportunity to address it, is it has actually opened the discussion within the region as a whole.  So it is no longer the United Nations speaking to community groups or the U.N. speaking to ourselves," said Settle. "Rather, it has created a momentum that this topic specifically can be addressed in an open forum."

The report says that all countries should ensure its citizens have access to health services to prevent unnecessary infection, irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

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