Thursday, January 2, 2014, 10:16
College gays new target in AIDS fight
By Xinhua

College gays new target in AIDS fight
A volunteer signs on the red ribbons in an AIDS campaign in a college in Anshun city in southwest China's Guizhou province, Nov 30, 2012. (Photos / icpress.cn)

GUANGZHOU - A Xin found out he was infected with HIV during a free HIV test for gay men three years ago, when he was a university postgraduate.

"Many male homosexuals have assumed they are far removed from the disease, knowing nothing at all about their own infections," said A Xin in the south China city of Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong Province.

A Xin's words shed light on the HIV/AIDS situation among young people in colleges and universities in China, where MSMs (men who have sex with men) constitute an increasingly important group in the fight against AIDS.


The first student HIV infection in Guangzhou was identified in 2002. To date, the city has reported a total of 117 cases in 48 colleges or universities, according to Xu Huifang, a doctor with the Guangzhou Disease Prevention and Control Center.

Ninety percent were infected via homosexual behavior, with MSMs making up the majority of those infected, Xu told Xinhua. One university in Guangzhou reported 10 HIV/AIDS cases, the most of any university in the city.

"But not all college students take HIV tests. Therefore, the real number (of HIV/AIDS cases) may be much bigger," said Wang Ming, director of the center.

He Haolan, a contagious disease doctor at Guangdong No. 8  People's Hospital, shared a similar view.

In the past two years, the number of HIV infection cases she has received among college students or graduates has increased significantly. Almost all of them were infected via high-risk sexual behaviors, according to He.

"It used to be very rare to see a college student come here for HIV tests, but it has become common in the past two years," said He. "The youngest (AIDS) patient I have ever met was a 15-year-old girl who is a middle school student."

China reported 70,000 cases of new HIV infections in the first nine months of 2013, bringing the total number of people living with HIV/AIDS to 434,000 in the country, according to the top health authority.

Official statistics showed sexual transmission accounted for 89.9 percent of the new cases from January to September. About 69 percent of all new cases resulted from heterosexual behavior while another 21 percent occurred through homosexual contact.

In Guangzhou, HIV/AIDS cases in those between the ages of 15 and 24 increased from 101 in 2008 to 203 in 2012, according to Tang Xiaoping, Communist Party chief of the Guangzhou Health Bureau.

Due to impulse, curiosity or unprotected sex, the number of HIV infections among students has been on the rise in recent years in Guangzhou, Tang said.

Student infection cases in Guangzhou increased 50 percent year-on-year in 2012, Tang said. The number of HIV-infected students grew from seven in 2008 to 25 in 2012 in the city.


As a highly educated group, college MSMs should have good knowledge of HIV and AIDS, but they tend to be unwilling to use condoms during sexual behavior, according to experts.

Young people are more and more open toward sex, but they have poor self-control abilities, said Xu.

A recent survey of 61 male homosexuals in Guangzhou showed many gays had multiple sex partners, and 13 percent had more than 21 partners.

Less than half of them used condoms during sexual behavior and one-third of them still did not use condoms during sex even after they were confirmed to have been infected with HIV.

Awareness of sexual safety is lacking as many gays do not know HIV infection is common among the group, said Xu.

In another survey of 916 students -- 311 male and 605 female -- at a university in the southwestern municipality of Chongqing, only 50 percent of the students knew that the use of condoms during sex and avoiding shared needles during drug use could prevent AIDS.

Among the 916 students, 53 reported a history of sexual behavior, two said they engaged in homosexual behavior, and nine had taken HIV tests.

HIV tests among college students are still quite rare. Disease control authorities have discovered some infection cases accidentally when screening voluntary blood donations.

Given the HIV situation in colleges, whether to carry out compulsory HIV tests or not has raised controversy.

In a recent college debate contest in Guangzhou, the team arguing against compulsory testing said it meant treating students like drug users and sex workers, which would lead to discrimination against this highly educated group.

The team arguing in favor of compulsory testing said it was impossible to know the exact HIV/AIDS situation among college students simply through voluntary tests, and people should just face up to the disease.

On China's popular online forum Tianya.cn, a college student from Chongqing posted a true story about his HIV infection in August 2011, calling for more education on safe sexual behavior and AIDS prevention and treatment for college students.

"Nothing is more fearful than ignorance," said the man in his early 20s. "No one told me such a thing would happen to me ... I only want more attention to be given to AIDS prevention and treatment through my experience."


Intervention should be carried out among college students in terms of AIDS prevention, although compulsory tests are not feasible due to lack of legal support, according to Wang Ming.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have played a key role in HIV/AIDS outreach and services.

HIV carriers welcome services from NGOs, as many NGOs have been founded by HIV carriers themselves. NGOs have easier access to special social groups, including gays, lesbians and sex workers, who are difficult for government organizations to reach.

In Guangzhou, Friendsteam was set up in 2006 to carry out AIDS education projects for college students.

Chen Du, founder of the organization, said sex education in colleges lags behind, and many students from rural areas know little about AIDS.

Education and health resources have not been effectively combined in AIDS prevention, he said.

Though many free tests target male homosexuals, heterosexual transmission should also not be ignored, as some male students buy sexual services, according to Chen.

Friendsteam organizes speeches, arts exhibitions, parties, classes and seminars and invites gays to participate in these events as part of its AIDS prevention efforts.

The Chongqing Rainbow Working Group and its website, China Rainbow Online, were founded in 2003 and 2005, respectively, to offer care and help for gays, lesbians, and sex workers in AIDS prevention.

AIDS prevention and sexual health knowledge should be taught in classes, and automatic condom-selling machines should be installed on college campuses, some students suggested.

Controlling the transmission of the HIV virus among MSMs will be a key task in Guangzhou's plan to fight AIDS, and more social organizations will be encouraged to join, according to Tang.