Men in the bathroom of a department store, which has become a hangout for Shanghai's emerging homosexual population
BEIJING (AFP) — Chinese authorities have launched their first anti-AIDS programme focused on gay men, amid rising concern that the disease is becoming more prevalent among homosexuals, state press reported Thursday.
The programme has begun with efforts to learn more about gay lifestyles, the health ministry said, according to the China Daily, after decades of disbelief from the government that homosexuality was anything but a mental problem.
"The programme aims to strengthen measures to prevent and control the deadly disease among the homosexual community," the China Daily quoted Wang Weizhen, a senior official with the ministry's HIV/AIDS prevention department, as saying.
"By learning more about gay people, we can better protect them against this incurable disease. Studies are under way in several cities to collect information on gay men, such as their... behavioural patterns."
The programme will also deliver special funding and technical support to gay men, Wang said, without giving further details.
China's communist rulers for years deemed homosexuality as a psychological problem, and it was only in 2001 that being gay was removed from the official list of mental disorders.
Even now, the official estimate of gay men in China is between five and 10 million people, a tally that activists have previously said is far lower than reality.
What is certain is that HIV/AIDS is killing more and more gay men.
Of the 700,000 Chinese people living with HIV-AIDS, sex between men accounted for 12.2 percent of the infections, according to data compiled by the government, the United Nations and the World Health Organisation last year.
Meanwhile, as the state-run press highlighted the government's new campaign to tackle the disease, one of the nation's most prominent anti-AIDS campaigners remained in jail on charges of subversion.
Hu Jia, who also sought to raise awareness about a wide range of human rights issues, was arrested in December last year and is awaiting trial.
Chinese and international rights groups have said authorities arrested Hu as part of their long-running campaign to silence any voices of dissent.