Rates of HIV among young men who have sex with men (MSM) in Asia and the Pacific (APAC) are at “epidemic” proportions, a leading epidemiologist has warned ahead of the start of the 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific.
“We have an epidemic in this region, among young MSM,” said president-elect of the International AIDS Society, Dr. Chris Beyrer at an event convened by the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM).
He urged governments and development organisations to move away from a narrow focus on individual-level practices and promotion of condoms alone, to develop more comprehensive strategies to address HIV.
Biomedical approaches to prevention, including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatments and microbicides, should be encouraged alongside traditional safer-sex messages, to stem high rates of prevalence in the region, he urged.
Rates of new HIV infection in the region remain stable among the general population, but continue to grow among MSM – particularly those aged 18 to 21. It is estimated that, within the next three years, up to 50 percent of new HIV infections in the region will occur within MSM communities.
In spite of this, two-thirds of MSM have little to no knowledge about HIV, and funding to involve MSM remains low. Across the region, spending on prevention work with MSM ranges from nothing, to a maximum of just 15 percent of total prevention spending.
APCOM executive director Midnight Poonkasetwattana responded to Beyrer’s statement, “this is a crucial time in Asia and the Pacific. We must act now to work in particular with young MSM and transgender communities if we are to stop this trend. The international community must maintain its commitment to AIDS funding and building the strength of local organisations to address these issues if we are to avoid a regression in new HIV rates.”
Meanwhile, UNAIDS deputy executive director Jan Beagle asserted that “MSM communities can and should play a key role in helping to reverse the growing epidemic trends. For an effective response, there must be genuine partnerships between governments and civil society. Governments must ensure that MSM communities and organizations are meaningfully engaged in all stages of the HIV response, with dignity and respect.”