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November 30, 2009

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Dali battles AIDS in gay bar

A GAY bar funded by a government health bureau will open in Dali, Yunnan Province, tomorrow on World AIDS Day to promote peer education on reducing AIDS transmission.

The Dali City Health Bureau has invested 120,000 yuan (US$17,575) in the bar, which has already been open for a month in a trial operation. About a dozen gay AIDS-prevention volunteers will operate the bar and spread the message about safe homosexual sex.

The idea of opening a gay bar in the city was first raised earlier this year as a platform to educate more homosexuals about AIDS transmission.

Zhang Jianbo, a doctor in a Dali hospital, said the city's AIDS-prevention work among gay men started in 2003. Zhang said it was a difficult start as gay men were difficult to find in those days due to fear of discrimination.

He said homosexual men only became more cooperative after he showed his good intentions in educating people about how to prevent the spread of AIDS.

In recent years, more than 10 gay men formed a volunteer team to conduct regular peer education through games and training, Zhang explained, leading to the idea of setting up a bar.

China's Health Minister Chen Zhu last week called for all of society's participation in the fight against HIV/AIDS and comprehensive intervention on behavior, medical and social therapy for at-risk groups of the population.

Central government funding for AIDS control grew from 390 million yuan in 2003 to 994 million yuan in 2008, while funding from local governments grew from 100 million yuan to 600 million yuan in the same period, Chen said.

Sexual contact became the major cause of the disease's transmission in 2006. Sexual transmission was the cause of about 72 percent of new HIV/AIDS cases in China last year, while infection among gay and bisexual men has increased to 32 percent of new cases, according to the latest report by the World Health Organization and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, or UNAIDS.

The actual numbers could be much greater as the statistics only include cases reported by medical facilities.

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day will be "universal access, and human rights," which has been interpreted as "enabling more people with more channels to gain knowledge of AIDS prevention and giving more respect to these groups of people."


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