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posted Friday, May 21, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 21
Gay men in Asia-Pacific region 'denied HIV care' new report says
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Gay men in Asia-Pacific region 'denied HIV care' new report says

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Ninety percent of Gay men in the Asia-Pacific region are denied access to HIV/AIDS care because of discriminatory laws in their countries.

That is the shocking conclusion reached by a new report issued jointly by the U.N. Development Program, the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health, and the University of Hong Kong's Center for Comparative and Public Law.

The report was made public on May 17 at a conference in Hong Kong.

"Nineteen of 48 countries in the Asia Pacific region criminalize male-to-male sex, and these laws often take on the force of vigilantism, often leading to abuse and human rights violations," the report said.

"Even where there are no specific offences for male-to-male sex, MSM [men who have sex with men] and Transgender people are subject to police abuses and are targeted by police for other offences relating to public order, vagrancy, prostitution, and obscenity."

These conditions make men who have sex with men extremely reluctant to be tested for HIV or to seek medical attention if they are infected.

The consequence is that HIV rates among Gay and Bi men in Asia are reaching epidemic proportions.

For example, the HIV infection rate among Gay and Bi men in Bangkok is now 30.8%, compared to 1.4% in the whole adult population in Thailand.

In Rangoon, the figure is 29.3% versus 0.7% in the whole Burmese adult population. In Mumbai, the Gay and Bi infection rate is 17% versus 0.36% for all Indian adults.

The UNDP report follows on the heels of a World Health Organization report released May 14, which revealed "the odds of MSM participants having HIV infection being 18.7 times higher than that in the general population. In China, the odds of MSM participants having HIV infection are 45 times higher than in the general population."

Punishments for male-to-male sex ranged from the death penalty in Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan, to whipping in Malaysia and Indonesia's Aceh province, the report found.

Even when punishments were not enforced, they provided a pretext for extortion, harassment and violence, it said.

Typical harassment included disruption of HIV prevention services by police detaining outreach workers, many of who are Gay, Bi, or Transgender peer educators.

Condoms and lubricants are also confiscated by police as evidence of sex work or of illegal male-to-male sex.

Police enforced public order and prostitution laws selectively against Gay men in some countries, the report went on.

In Sri Lanka and the Philippines, for example, vagrancy laws were used in this way.

In China and Singapore, the report found that HIV education materials were censored to eliminate references to same-sex intercourse.

"The effectiveness of the HIV response will depend not just on the sustained scale up of HIV prevention, treatment and care, but on whether the legal and social environment support or hinder programs for those who are most vulnerable," the UNDP's Mandeep Dhaliwal said in a statement.

Former judge of the High Court of Australia Michael Kirby said, "A strategy of comprehensive, rights-based HIV prevention requires bold and effective legal and policy measures to reach out to vulnerable communities and individuals at risk."

Ajit Prakash Shah, retired chief justice of the Delhi High Court in India, told the UNDP conference that men who have sex with men "cannot be excluded or ostracized merely because some of us perceive them as deviants or different."

In July 2009, Shah delivered the ruling that found India's 150-year-old statute prohibiting homosexual acts as discriminatory and therefore "a violation of fundamental rights."

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