This week, public health agencies for the first time published research into gay men's sexual health.
Chinese society is slowly becoming more aware of its gay population, partly due to greater visibility and partly in realization that a more pragmatic approach to sex and sexuality is needed to deal with threats to sexual health.
Zhang Baichuan, an expert on gay issues based in Qingdao, a coastal city in Shandong Province, estimates that around 2 to 4 percent of the adult male population in China is gay -- that's between 5 million and 12.5 million.
Of course, the visible number is much lower: a survey conducted from April to August in Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang Province, suggested that gay men attending bars, parks and baths accounted for 0.9 percent of men aged 15 to 55.
Wu Yuhua, from the province's Disease Control Center, ran the research to investigate incidence of HIV amongst local gay men. "Many are not open in public at all, so we could only estimate a percentage of the population," he told China Daily Wednesday.
The survey at two public baths in Harbin showed that, of 148 gay men, two were confirmed as being HIV positive. That is a prevalence of 1.35 percent, but whether the sample can be seen as at all representative of the wider gay population is unknown.
An assessment published jointly on Tuesday by the Ministry of Health and the UN Theme Group on HIV/AIDS said that over 1 percent of gay men in Beijing, Harbin, Guangzhou, Shenyang and other cities may be HIV positive.
It also said that condom use amongst gay men is low, a major concern since it is thought that 11.1 percent of all people with HIV are gay men.
Hundreds of gay men have already become volunteers to further rights to better services. Zhang said that a lot of work has been done in recent years with the support of local medical organizations.
Clearly there is still room for much more work to involve gay men and improve awareness of sexual health issues.
Wu said that public health workers should provide better services and comprehensive support for gay men to prevent wider spread of the virus.
(China Daily December 2, 2004)