Two hundred gay and bisexual men are being infected with HIV every day in the Asia Pacific region, a figure which should be ringing alarm bells with the Australian government, AFAO’s executive director Don Baxter has warned.

Speaking from the Asia Pacific AIDS conference currently being held in Bali, Baxter called on AusAID to increase its funding for services to gay men and men who have sex with men in the region.

The situation is getting worse and there are no large-scale interventions in the gay communities and among MSM in the region outside Thailand, he explained.

In the last financial year AusAID expended less than $1 million in the region on MSM and over the last five years in harm reduction they’ve spent over $60 million, so the proportions are just out of kilter given that MSM is as high a priority and arguably a higher priority now.

We’re not calling for them to reduce expenditure on harm reduction but to increase funds available to MSM.

The population generating the most infections at the moment is among people using drugs but based on some very authoritative modelling done by the Commission on AIDS in Asia, if current programs are continued for the next ten years, by 2020, nearly 50 percent of infections in the region will arise from sex between men. So the rate of infection among MSM is higher than any other population and will soon become the biggest.

Baxter would like to see significant funding allocations for MSM programs introduced this financial year.

It’s taking AusAID a long time to adjust its funding programs to allocate more money and the real problem is that the window of opportunity to really effectively intervene in these major cities in Asia before the epidemics get right out of control, that window of opportunity is closing rapidly. If it takes us two years before we invest any more money for MSM programs, then we will have largely lost the battle.

According to AFAO, every year Australia delays will lead to 73,000 new infections in the region.

This is about the human rights of these people not to be destroyed by HIV, and that underpins a lot of Australia’s aid program, but in this case as well, if Australia doesn’t act to reduce the impact of HIV in the region, then the treatment of costs for the numbers infected is going to be that much greater and Australia can not and does not resile from assisting the health of the people in the region.

We do, as a rich country have the responsibility to do that.

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