by Michael Woodhead
Rates of HIV in gay men in China are increasing dramatically, and many of them are passing on the infection to wives in sham marriages, a study from Beijing has shown.
The prevalence of HIV in the gay community is now as high as 10%, up from only around 6% in 2006, showing that urgent action is needed to contain the infection, according to researchers from the National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention at the Chinese Center for Disease Control.
In a study of HIV rates in samples of 500 gay men from 2009 to 2011 they found that the overall prevalence rate was 8%. The incidence increased from 2009-2010 from 6.8 to 11.2/100 person years and then declined to 5.8/100 person years.
The main risk factors for HIV infection were being bisexual (ie living with a woman in a marriage of convenience to avoid the family stigma of homosexuality), recently arrived in Beijing, and a negative attitude to safe sex. Between 40-50% of gay men reported having recent unprotected sex but only about a third said they knew the HIV status of their male partners. Up to 20% of gay men had female partners and about 75% of sex with women was unprotected sex
The researchers said the "alarmingly high HIV prevalence" showed that urgent action was needed to stop HIV spreading beyond the gay community.
"The findings from these three consecutive surveys signal the beginning in changing the landscape of the HIV epidemic in China," the researchers said. "HIV transmission has begun to shift from the historically main transmission route, intravenous drug users, to populations at risk through unprotected heterosexual contacts or male homosexual sex."
They added that their findings "underscored the urgency of increasing effective and better-targeted intervention services to stop the rapid spread of the virus, which includes risk reduction education, condom promotion and distribution, encouraging early and frequent HIV testing, and expanding the coverage of HIV prevention measures. These interventions will help curb the spread of HIV infection inside and outside the [gay] population."
The study is published in Biomed Research International.