New numbers from GlobalData confirm that the HIV epidemic is continuing to impact China. According to a press release from the data and analytics company, HIV total prevalence in Chinese men is four times as high as in Chinese women.
A July 2019 study, published in the PLOS One, also showed that those who've died from AIDS complications in China mirror the trend in HIV prevalence, showing an increase over time and a gender gap skewed towards men.
“The gender gap in HIV epidemiology is also large for mortality, where HIV/AIDS mortality is three times as high in men as in women," said Kasey Fu, director of epidemiology at GlobalData. "The data also suggest that the gender gap is widening.”
As noted in the chart above, provided by GlobalData, the number of people living with HIV in China has increased from around 651,000 in 2005 to 850,000 in 2015.
The skew towards men in regards to HIV is not only reflected in China. Similar trends are seen in South Africa and Malawi, but HIV epidemiology in China has a unique history and profile given that many HIV transmissions occur via blood transfusions, rather than sexual intercourse.
The issue becomes even more complicated given the stigma associated with HIV and LGBTQ men, which combats China's cultural norms. As GlobalData reports, most men who have sex with men often end up married to women as a result.
"Considering these circumstances, women are more at risk of HIV than in some populations," Fu explains. "However, several factors favor women over men in both disease transmission and survival.”
One of the reasons why the number of HIV-positive women is signifcantly lower than men might be because there is a better prognosis and treatment outcome. Perhaps that's why the average life expectancy of women in China is better than men.
There has also been an increase in visibility for queer men. In fact, the percentage of men who have sex with men increased from 1.5 percent in 2006 to 23.4 percent in 2018. Consequentially, the study notes, there has been an increase in risky behaviors.
“China’s HIV situation has come a long way from the days where HIV was unknowingly transmitted through mass blood transfusions," adds Fu. "Such transmission has been reduced essentially to zero. "China now faces new challenges in disease prevention and treatment, where men are at a strong disadvantage. HIV/AIDS prevention is difficult because it is mired in social norms and expectations. Public health programs need to understand that and target the growing population of the group most at risk for HIV infection and mortality, men who have sex with men.”