Japan is at the forefront in helping fight HIV globally, the executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS in Tokyo said earlier this month. In addition, Japan is the fourth largest donor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, notes Michel Sidibe, who was meeting with nongovernmental organizations 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, Sidibe points out.
"The data that we have are showing that the infection rate has been stabilized [in Japan]," Sidibe says. However, "In the [United States] 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 says.
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% of the gay people are hidden away from society," says Hiroshi Hasegawa of the Japanese Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS. "This stigmatization is the biggest barrier for [HIV] prevention."