The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) has expressed alarm that a predicted HIV epidemic amongst men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people living in southeast Asia has now arrived.

New figures released at the 10th Asia Pacific AIDS Conference in Busan, South Korea, reveal that in the Philippines, 70 percent of new infections are in MSM; in Delhi, India, one in five MSM are estimated to be HIV positive; and in Indonesia, one in four transgender people are estimated to be infected with the virus.

In Bangkok, Thailand, an estimated 30 percent of MSM are HIV positive, with new research showing a 10 percent annual infection rate in men aged under 25.

In both Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and Jakarta, Indonesia prevalence has tripled since 2008.

Responding to the latest figures, AFAO executive director Rob Lake urged the Australian Government and, in particular, AusAID to respond to the threat to these at-risk communities.

“All these statistics released at the conference need to be appreciated in the context of the infection rate in the general community for all of these countries being under 1 percent,” Lake said.

“Our region is not prepared for these MSM infection rates. We need a strong, targeted approach that reaches the most affected communities with effective education and support programs. Australia needs to be a part of this.”

The conference also heard renewed calls for action to remove the laws that hinder access to HIV prevention and treatment, including life-saving medications.

The conference heard that criminalisation and discrimination against transgender people and MSM, sex workers and people who use drugs are fuelling rises in HIV across the region.

“Political leaders’ shortcomings have long been the drivers of HIV,” President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau of Fiji said at the conference opening on Friday.

Lake called on the Australian Government to demonstrate leadership by calling for renewed support for the removal of laws that fuel HIV in southeast Asia and more broadly across the Commonwealth.

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