BEIJING (Reuters) - The number of gay men in China who are HIV positive has risen sharply in the last three years, according to a survey of Chinese cities conducted by the Ministry of Health.
Men with HIV make up 4.9 percent of the gay population, up from 0.4 percent in 2005, the Xinhua news agency said Friday, citing Hao Yang, deputy director of the disease control department under the Ministry of Health.
"Sex becomes the major way of AIDS transmission in China and its spread among men having sex with men is worsening notably. I think whether we can well control AIDS transmission among gays will greatly affect the future of the whole country's battle against the epidemic," Hao said.
Heterosexual sex was still by far the most common way for HIV to spread in China, accounting for 40.4 percent of new cases in 2008. Same-sex intercourse accounted for 5.1 percent of new infections, up from 0.4 percent on 2005, and drug use accounted for 28.3 percent, according to Hao.
Xinhua did not give comparative figures for heterosexual transmission or transmission through use of injected drugs.
The survey was carried out in 61 Chinese cities on more than 18,000 gay men, said Wu Zunyou, director of the National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention under the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The health department surveyed gay men in three cities in 2005, and in five cities in 2006.
In one unidentified city surveyed this time, 15 percent of gay men surveyed were HIV positive, Xinhua said.
China has become more open about addressing AIDS and HIV in recent years, but embarrassment about talking directly about sex hinders frank education. Many people also avoid testing for HIV, for fear of losing their jobs or being socially ostracized.
Although homosexuality is also more tolerated, it is still taboo in many socially conservative Chinese families and cities.
By September, China reported about 260,000 HIV positive in total, among whom 77,000 had developed AIDS, and 34,000 have died.
The number of HIV-positive people increased by 50,000 in 2007, Xinhua said.
Reporting by Lucy Hornby