Speech by SFH on HIV/AIDS among Men who have sex with Men (English only)
**********************************************************

     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, at the Technical Consultation on Health Sector Response to HIV/AIDS among Men who have sex with Men today (February 18):

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

     It gives me great pleasure today to officiate at the opening of the Technical Consultation on Health Sector Response to HIV/AIDS among Men who have sex with Men (MSM).  We have around 50 international delegates and 30 local observers attending this consultation.  Hong Kong is indeed privileged to be hosting this event.  A very warm welcome to you all.  

     This technical consultation is an important initiative of the World Health Organisation Western Pacific Regional Office following an international consultation on "MSM and the prevention and treatment of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections" held in Geneva last September.  I am sure that you will find the experience-sharing and discussions useful, and I hope that you will be able to reach some ground-breaking conclusions at the end of the consultation.

     Reports from a diverse range of countries and regions have shown that the prevalence of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections among MSM is higher.  According to UNAIDS, at least 5íV10% of all HIV infections worldwide are due to sexual transmission between men.  Unprotected sex is common among MSM and most of them do not know their own HIV status.  Risks and vulnerability to HIV infections are reinforced by a lack of knowledge, denial and inadequate access to treatment.  There is clearly an urgent need for greater international collaboration to halt the spread of HIV among MSM.  By hosting this event and through our active participation in its proceedings, Hong Kong is saying to you, our honoured partners, that we care, and that we stand ready to work side by side with you.

     Indeed we too are not immune to the problem. Although Hong Kong's overall HIV prevalence rate among adults remains at a relatively low rate of less than 0.1%, HIV cases among MSM have been on a rapid rise in recent years.  Every year, there are around 300-400 HIV cases reported in Hong Kong.  Around 30% of these cases reported MSM as the main route of HIV transmission.  In 2006, the HIV prevalence among MSM was around 4% according to a large-scaled community-based survey performed in gay venues such as bars and saunas.  The 4% figure is more than 10 times the HIV prevalence of any other risk groups in Hong Kong, including sex workers and injecting drug users.  Furthermore, we have identified large clusters of HIV-1 Subtype B infections affecting men.  The consistent condom use among MSM also remained at a low level according to behavioral surveys.  

     The Hong Kong Government has always adopted a multi-pronged approach in the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS, including surveillance, prevention and health promotion, as well as treatment and care of people living with HIV. The Department of Health is the lead agency for implementing such measures, complemented by the services at public hospitals and clinics under the Hospital Authority.   A permanent body, the Advisory Council on AIDS, comprising representatives from diverse background, such as the medical profession, the academia, the social welfare sector, and NGOs, is tasked with advising the Administration on our HIV/AIDS prevention and control strategy. To fully engage the community, we have also set up an AIDS Trust Fund with HK$350 million dedicated to funding various public education projects, patient support services and research undertaken by NGOs and academia.  Multi-partite partnership has been and will continue to be a key component of the AIDS programme in Hong Kong.

     In view of the global as well as domestic trend of rising HIV cases among MSM, we have heeded the advice of the Hong Kong Advisory Council on AIDS by making HIV prevention among MSM a priority area of action in our five-year- HIV/AIDS strategy for Hong Kong from 2007 to 2011.  The AIDS Trust Fund has allocated around HK$13 million over the last two years in support of more than 40 HIV prevention and research projects on MSM.  Projects to do with MSM will continue to be accorded priority in its future funding. Where publicity is concerned, the Department of Health's Red Ribbon Centre has been working closely with various NGOs in launching a number of  HIV and STI prevention campaigns focusing on MSMs.  This is on top of the quality treatment and support services to all people living with HIV in Hong Kong.  

     But we are keenly aware that more needs to be done, especially in collaboration with our regional and international partners.  With the increasing ease for people to travel around the world and find sex partners via the internet, the problem with rising HIV incidence among MSMs will only get worse if we do not join forces to halt this trend.
 
     There is a clear need to scale up HIV surveillance among MSM at country, regional and global levels.  Health ministries and authorities can all benefit by working closely with one another as well as with community-based organisations and the affected community to improve our intervention programmes.  We can also enhance our collaboration in medical research, social behaviour studies, as well as in prevention and public education projects tailored for MSMs.  More exchanges and joint training programmes among our frontline workers will also be in the interest of all participating communities.   

     These are just a few examples of what we can achieve as a collective force.  I am sure that this consultation will provide us with new insights and momentum as we work towards the common goal of eradicating AIDS.  I wish you all a most fruitful time at the forum.  

     Thank you.

Ends/Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Issued at HKT 13:08

NNNN