The statistics speak for themselves: 25 million dead, 33 million infected and 2 million new cases each year. The global AIDS epidemic, which first reared its head 27 years ago, continues to spread around the globe. As governments and NPOs work together to lessen the impact, infection rates have slowed and the public’s knowledge throughout the First World has increased — except in Japan.
According to a July 2008 report published by The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS and the World Health Organization, Japan had the lowest HIV prevalence of the major developed countries. Yet in contrast to other nations, infection rates here have actually grown since 1996.
“The number of newly reported HIV cases is dramatically increasing, especially among men who have sex with men, and young people,” says Tsutomu Nemoto, an organizer of Japan’s upcoming World AIDS Day event. “What’s also worrying is the increase in newly reported cases, meaning the virus wasn’t detected before it developed into full-blown AIDS.
Why? Too often, HIV is viewed as an overseas problem. “How aware people are in Japan about AIDS varies from person to person,” Nemoto says. “Most people seem not to realize they can get HIV. When it comes to AIDS, some people imagine that it is a disease somewhere in Africa or that it affects a particular population, like gay people and/or sex workers.”
Indeed, the numbers are alarming. An NGO called Stop! STD o Kangaeru Kai conducted a survey of youths in Shibuya last year. Of the 466 Japanese high school students questioned, one in 17 had contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI), and only half were aware that HIV/AIDs could be spread among people their age. According to “The Face of Global Sex 2008,” a report compiled by condom maker Durex, out of the 26 countries surveyed, Japan ranked 25th in terms of the general public’s knowledge about how to protect itself from STIs.
World AIDS Day (WADS), held around the globe on Dec 1, aims to raise awareness of the situation. “The theme of WADS 2008 in Japan is ‘Think & Link,’” explains Nemoto. “WADS is trying to link peoples’ daily lives and AIDS together by holding various events, including live music performances, distributing condoms in the middle of Shibuya, and organizing other activities throughout Japan.”
The bulk of these events will take place on Sunday, Nov 30, in the vicinity of Shibuya station. One of the highlights will be the Red Walk, with volunteers marching through the city’s streets handing out literature about the disease.
After WADS 2008 wraps up, there will still be a number of ways people can get information and help. Free, anonymous HIV testing is available at the public health center of each ward. Test dates and times are limited, however, making it necessary to contact your local center in advance. The Japanese Foundation for AIDS Prevention also runs a 24-hour support line, with pre-recorded information about HIV/AIDS, as well as counseling, testing, treatment and more, in English and seven other languages.
See www.wadsjapan.net (Japanese only) for more information about WADS events. To volunteer or request English information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The 24-hour, multilingual HIV/AIDS support hotline is 03-5940-2127.
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today