Japan Good on HIV Globally But Not at Home: UN Executive

Japan is at the forefront in helping fight HIV/AIDS globally, the executive director of UNAIDS in Tokyo said earlier this month. Japan is the fourth-largest donor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, noted Michel Sidibe, who was meeting with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and authorities on his first official visit to the country.

However, Japan could lend more support to local NGOs reaching at-risk populations domestically, such as sex workers, migrants, and men who have sex with men (MSM), said Sidibe.

"The data that we have are showing that the infection rate has been stabilized [in Japan]," Sidibe said. However, "In the US and in different parts of the world, we are seeing an increase of infections among gay men."

In 1999, 160 HIV cases were acquired through heterosexual intercourse, and 195 were homosexually acquired, according to health ministry data. Ten years later, the number infected through gay sex was 659, compared with 180 via heterosexual intercourse.

NGOs "know the people, they have a good mapping of hot spot areas, and their strategy to reach [people at risk of HIV/AIDS] is well established," Sidibe said.

In meetings with Sidibe, representatives of five NGOs said their efforts are being hampered by stigma about the disease and against homosexuals.

"In Japan, gay people are stigmatized, and probably 95 percent of the gay people are hidden away from society," said Hiroshi Hasegawa of the Japanese Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS. "This stigmatization is the biggest barrier for [HIV] prevention."