HIV rates among men who have sex with men in Asia are surging because taboos about homosexuality are undermining education campaigns, according to a new survey of 23 Asian countries.The report by the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) and related group TREAT Asia found HIV rates among gay men were as high as 28 percent in Thailand’s capital Bangkok.Men who have sex with men (MSM) in Cambodia and India also reported high HIV rates.The report says the statistics are alarming because many gay men in Asia are beyond the reach of prevention campaigns.Given the difficulty of surveillance in these populations, rates of HIV infection could actually be far worse, amfAR’s Kevin Frost said.This report shines a light on the extent of high-risk MSM behavior and serves as a wake-up call for Asia.Governments in the region and international donors need to support appropriate prevention, care, and treatment efforts for MSM populations, or face a spiralling epidemic that could be far worse than any seen in gay communities in the West.There are also fears the rising HIV rates could lead to more women being infected, because men who have sex with men in Asia are often married.An international AIDS summit in Japan last year heard the Asia-Pacific region faced a silent tsunami because of HIV.An estimated 8.3 million people in Asia are HIV-positive, but some experts believe as many as 12 million more infections could occur within five years if prevention efforts do not improve.The amfAR report comes as delegates at the XVI International AIDS Conference, underway in Toronto, call for a refreshed approach to HIV prevention that targets high-risk groups including gay men, women and sex workers.At the conference’s opening session on Sunday, US philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates said current policies that prioritised abstinence and stigmatised vulnerable groups needed to be changed.

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