One third of men who have sex with men could be infected with HIV unless prevention measures work, according to experts in Hong Kong.

There have been sharp rises in the number of men getting the virus through gay sex.

In 2003 there were 50 – up to 112 in 2006.

“If all our actions fail, by 2020 we can have one-third infected in the community. Some of them may go on to infect women,” said Wong Ka-hing, consultant for the Hong Kong government’s Centre for Health Protection.

“There are three clusters (of infection).

“We investigated and found common risk factors like a number of people attending the same sex parties, internet use, using recreational drugs, unsafe sex.”

China is taking action to tackle the rise in HIV infections.

Last month it was revealed that the number of gay men in the Chinese capital who have HIV is much larger than previously thought.

New figures from the Beijing Centres of Disease Control and Prevention indicated that up to 5% of gay men in Beijing have HIV.

Difficulty in getting the message about safe sex across to closeted gay men are contributing factors.

Officially there were 214,000 people living with HIV in China by July 30th 2007, but it is feared many tens of thousands more are not on the official lists.

Beijing authorities examined one million blood samples between January and July this year and found 563 people infected. Among them, 118 were permanent residents of the city.

This year China’s Ministry of Health implemented its first ever national programme to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS among gay men.

The programme marks a subtle new phase in the one-party-state’s attitudes towards homosexuality since sodomy was decriminalised in 1997: No approval, no disapproval and no promotion.

Gay sex accounted for just 0.4 percent of new infections in 2005, but that figure had risen to 3.3 percent by 2007.

Of the estimated 700,000 Chinese people living with HIV or AIDS, 11% contracted the virus through gay sex, according to Ministry of Health figures.

While homosexuality is still officially classified as a “mouldering life style of capitalism” in the officially communist state, there are no laws against gay sex or lifestyles. Neither are there any laws protecting Chinese gays from discrimination.

The highest court in Hong Kong decriminalised gay public sodomy last year in a ruling that advocates called a victory for China’s gay rights movement.

A panel of five top judges unanimously ruled that two men, who acknowledged engaging in anal sex in a parked car, should not be subject to the country’s maximum penalty of five years in prison.