The rapid increase in HIV infection among the gay population in China has been brought primarily under control due to improved education and intervention measures in recent years, a leading expert at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said.
However, Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the center, said the number of new HIV cases among heterosexuals is still rising rapidly, posing a major threat to overall HIV/AIDS prevention and control in China.
About 6.9 percent of gay men who underwent tests through the National Sentinel Surveillance Program last year were HIV-positive, down from a peak of about 8 percent in 2015.
In 2005, the rate was less than 2 percent, he said.
"We can draw the conclusion that the HIV epidemic among the MSM (men who have sex with men) group has initially been brought under control," Wu said, adding that risks of HIV transmission in the group may continue to fall.
Although most new HIV cases reported each year in China are still heterosexual, the rapidly rising number of HIV cases among the MSM population in many big cities in China has had the health authorities and experts worried in recent years.
In Beijing, for example, the MSM group has been responsible for the majority of newly reported HIV/AIDS cases in recent years. Of the more than 2,800 cases reported between January and October last year in the capital, nearly 70 percent were transmitted through sex between men, according to the city's health authority.
Compared with other groups, this group has much higher chances of HIV transmission.
It is estimated that 1.25 million people were living with HIV in China by the end of last year, and every year about 80,000 people in China are infected with HIV, a lower incidence compared with most other countries, according to National Health Commission.
With continuous efforts, HIV prevention and control in China has made significant progress in recent years, resulting in elimination of HIV infection through blood infusion. Infection of HIV through drug abuse and mother-baby transmission have also been effectively contained. Sex is the major channel for HIV transmission in China, accounting for more than 95 percent of all newly diagnosed cases.
Wu, from the Chinese CDC, said constant publicity and education efforts targeting the MSM group in recent years, especially improved community-based services, have played a key role in containing HIV transmission.
In addition, recent advances in early diagnosis have contributed to improved HIV prevention and control in communities, he said.
"The number of HIV/AIDS cases among heterosexuals in China is still rising," he said. "The group will be key to HIV/AIDS prevention and control in the long run."
Last year, heterosexuals accounted for 71 percent of the total number of new HIV/AIDS cases in China, up from 69.6 percent in the previous year, he said.
Peng Yanzi, director of LGBT Rights Advocacy China, a nongovernmental organization in China, said reduced chances of HIV infection in the MSM group is linked to improved prevention efforts targeting this key population in recent years in China.
In addition to intervention efforts, eliminating discrimination from the society on MSM group and improving sex education is key to reducing HIV infection among the MSM group, Peng said. "Education on safe sex is the best way to prevent HIV infection, for both MSM and heterosexuals," he said.
It is good to see in many colleges freshmen receiving sex education right after they enter college, but we need more diverse and comprehensive education, he said.
Zhou Yuhui, deputy chief of National Health Commission's Disease Control and Prevention Department, said China still faces many challenges in fighting HIV due to causes such as widespread use of social media that increases chances of unsafe sex, and frequent population migration that makes effective intervention more difficult.
In addition, key groups such as young students lack enough awareness to protect them from unsafe sex, he said.