Not being "out" with their homosexuality, "cultural homophobia" and being less connected to the gay scene is resulting in a spike in numbers of Asians in New Zealand being infected with HIV, the NZ Aids Foundation says.
Nearly one in four people diagnosed with HIV last year were of Asian ethnicity, according to data from the AIDS Epidemiology Group, Otago University.
The number of gay and bisexual Asian men diagnosed with HIV rose from 10 per cent three years ago to 22 per cent in 2012 to 24 per cent last year.
Nearly one in four new heterosexual HIV diagnoses last year were also Asian, with ethnic Chinese, Indian and Filipino men making up the bulk of the new diagnoses.
Speaking ahead of World Aids Day today foundation executive director Shaun Robinson said: "Our research tells us that Asian and gay and bisexual men are less connected to the gay scene and therefore don't fully appreciate the importance of HIV prevention such as using condoms.
"We know also that Asian men are less likely to test for HIV or any sexually transmitted disease... and there is perhaps a general reluctance to be open about sex."
More than six in 10 of HIV infections for Asian gay and bisexual men occurred in New Zealand, and 26 per cent of infections were contracted in Asia - 42 per cent of these in China.
For Asian heterosexuals, 70 per cent contracted the infections in Asia and surveys conducted by the foundation between 2006 and 2011 found Asians to have the lowest levels of STI and HIV testing.
"When you add higher levels cultural homophobia within those communities it decreases people's ability to be open about their sexuality and this reduces their likelihood of being supported to practise safe sex," Mr Robinson said.
"We have been talking to the Asian community to try to understand what is going on."
The foundation has commissioned a research into the attitudes and knowledge of young Asian gay and bisexual men was in the process of better employing an Asian staff member.
After 30 years, stigma and discrimination was still pervasive and the foundation was adopting a tagline of "Zero Discrimination" for its World Aids Day campaign this year.
"We will be adapting some of our prevention and support material to be more relevant and influential within Asian communities," Mr Robinson said.
Dr Peter Saxton, University of Auckland's director of Gay Men's Sexual Health research group, said New Zealand's HIV epidemic was concentrated in Auckland where the population was getting more diverse.
According to 2013 Census, Asians made up 11.8 per cent of the population but 23 per cent in Auckland identified with at least one Asian ethnicity.
"It's important to note that while there's been a rise observed in new HIV diagnoses, there's no evidence yet that the proportion of Asian MSM (men who have sex with other men) who have HIV is any higher than other ethnicities," Dr Saxton said.
"The change is mostly in the composition of new HIV diagnoses, not in the overall number."
He also did not think Asian MSM were taking any more risks than other groups.
Dr Saxton said social media was popular among many Asian gay and bisexual men and could be used to connect them to existing HIV prevention resources.
Gay and bisexual men are most at risk of HIV because of how they have sex, and anal sex is 18 times more prone to infection than vaginal sex.
Medications developed in the 1990s which prevents HIV from developing into Aids had resulted with more people living with HIV who can potentially pass on the virus.
There is no cure for HIV and as an infectious disease it can spread rapidly if efforts to prevent it are not maintained.
There are about 2300 people living with the virus in New Zealand, with annual new infections at around 120.
Over the last 30 years, about 800 people have died from the disease here.
HIV Aids in New Zealand
- 2300 are living with HIV
- 800 have died in the last 30 years
- 120 annual new infections
- 24 per cent of gay and bisexual men diagnosed last year were Asian
- 60 per cent of infections of Asian gay and bisexual men occurred in NZ
(Source: AIDS Epidemiology Group, Otago University)
- What is HIV/Aids?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which weakens the immune system by destroying cells that fight infections and some cancer. Aids, or Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome, is the final stage of HIV infection but not everyone with HIV advances to this stage. There is no cure for HIV.
- How does it spread?
HIV can only be transmitted through bodily fluids. Activities that put people at risk include unprotected sex, sharing needles and syringes, breastfeeding and direct blood to blood contact with a HIV positive person. Saliva, sweat or urine do not contain enough of the virus to infect another person.
- What is the best prevention?
Condoms and lube are the best way to protect against contracting HIV during sex. When used consistently and correctly, latex acts as a barrier that HIV can't pass through.
(Source: NZ Aids Foundation)