The characteristics of the HIV/AIDS issue in East Asia
The main characteristic of the HIV/AIDS issue in East Asia is the relatively low HIV infection rate, as a percentage of the admittedly large population. Although the proportion is low, however, the actual numbers of people who get infected with HIV continues to increase. At the International Congress of AIDS in Asia and the Pacific in 2005 it was emphasised that the rate of increase of infection had gone beyond 24 per cent per annum.
Such a low infection rate leads to a lack of social attention to the HIV/AIDS issue in these societies. This may cause delayed or insufficient responses. The low rate of HIV infection, which is a desirable situation, reduces the social concern about AIDS and slows down the responses from government and NGOs. We may call this the ‘prevention paradox’ — the more successful our prevention responses are, the more the government can cut financial and human support in the public sectors.
Although the epidemic has often been triggered and extended by IDUs and sex work in East Asia, in recent years the epidemic of HIV infection among gay men and MSM has also become serious (Yasuda et al. 2005: 77-82; Hoda and Kaneko 2009: 210-17). In comparison with North America and Western Europe, gay men and MSM in East Asia started to organise their communities later – in many cases in the mid-1990s or early 2000s. Moreover, because oflinguistic diversity, East Asian countries have difficulties in making linkages and networks among academic researchers, governmental organisations and non-governmental organisations including community-based organisations (CBOs) to support people affected by HIV/AIDS. By contrast, communication and linkages were easier among Latin American countries because of the common use of the Spanish and Portuguese languages. Therefore, networking and mutual cooperation among East Asian countries in responding to HIV/AIDS has been comparatively delayed.