Hong Kong recorded its highest-ever number of HIV infections in a single year - 435 new HIV cases in 2008 - since 1984 when it was first recorded. The figure marks a five percent increase from the 414 cases reported in 2007 - an 11 percent increase over 2006's 373 new HIV cases.
Of the new cases in 2008, 145 resulted from homosexual relations, 131 from heterosexual contact, 40 from intravenous drug use and three from blood infusion, the Department of Health announced last week.
Despite the record levels last year, new infection cases among MSMs saw a drop from 168 in 2007 to 145 in 2008 - the first drop since 2003. (See chart above; source: info.gov.hk)
While it's a "good sign," AIDS Concern chief executive Loretta Wong told Fridae that "it's too early to draw any conclusion from the figures."
As for the record number of new HIV cases last year, Wong said that it might be due to more people taking HIV test last year and/or that "consistent condom use is not high enough in the high risk communities, that more people are getting test who are HIV positive."
She added that the current high figures may reflect the "insufficient" prevention effort in the last few years. "What we see now could indicate a low programme coverage and people were not accessing the services."
Calling the 2008 figures "alarming and worrying," she stressed that AIDS Concern, which provides AIDS prevention services, adopts a "sexual health promotion" approach to address HIV issue, which takes a more "holistic perspective than just simply on HIV only."
Wong called on the HKSAR government to "perceive the provision of funding as an 'investment' to the health of Hong Kong people." She stressed that comprehensive programmes that feature a combination of interventions or activities that can address the MSM and HIV issues such as distribution of condoms and lube, counselling and testing, peer education, and outreach activities are needed.
Last week, the organisation's Flying High, Landing Safe programme came under fire from Wong Sing Chi (黃成智), a Legislative Councillor, who organised a press conference on Mar 6 attacking the AIDS Trust Fund for funding a website "which promoted drug use."
Wong had strongly opposed the Government's proposal to amend the Domestic Violence Ordinance to cover same-sex cohabitants.
The highnsafe.com web site, which has been taken offline since the project ended in January, is targeted at men who have sex with men (MSM) who are using or contemplating to use drugs.
In response, AIDS Concern said in a statement that it was not their intention to promote drug use and the web site is "designed based on the harm reduction theory, which involves a range of non-judgmental strategies and approaches to provide the knowledge, skills, resources and supports to be safer and healthier."