Alarm over HIV infection among gay men

BANGKOK / PHUKET: While the overall figure for people living with HIV/Aids is declining, new infections among men who have sex with men have been increasing drastically during the past few years, causing grave concern at the Public Health Ministry.

Dr Somchai Chakrabhand, Director General of the Disease Control Department, said yesterday that a recent survey of gay men across the country has found that the highest risk areas were tourism centers such as Phuket, Chiangmai and Bangkok.

He was speaking at the conclusion of a one-day conference on lessons learned from the survey. About 200 health activists and gay rights advocates attended the meeting.

The most dramatic increase in HIV infections among homosexual men occurred in Phuket where the incidence of the disease rose from 5.5% in 2005 to 20% in 2007. In Bangkok, it increased from 17 per cent in 2003 to 30 per cent last year, and in Chiangmai it rose from 15.3% in 2005 to 16.9 per cent last year.

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The survey also found that half of the men in this group do not use condoms with their lovers or with “temporary partners”.

Male sex workers formed a high risk group for infections due to their unsafe sex behavior and lack of knowledge about protecting themselves Somchai said.

“Most of them have anal sex with their partners without using a condom and lubricant. This could cause deep damage to anal tissue and easy transmission of HIV,” he said.

Chatwut Wangwon, of a joint program of the Public Health Ministry and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that while working in Phuket for four years, he found that most men who have sex with men and become infected with HIV are students, of working age and single.

At least 27% of them could have sex with men or women, which means that they could transmit the disease to women.

About 50% of them do not use condoms, while only 26% insisted that they do. Some of them do not use a lubricant but try other substances, such as detergent, which could easy destroy a condom.

– Nation and Gazette reporters

Phuket News

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