11/29/2006, 00.00
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A 70 per cent jump in new HIV/AIDS cases in Shanghai

Migrants represent 80 per cent of new cases, especially intravenous drug users. Health authorities plan to fight the disease with information brochures and posters.

Shanghai (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Shanghai reported a 70 per cent jump in new HIV/Aids cases this year. The Infection is especially significant among migrant workers but local residents are also increasingly affected.

According to the city's Disease Control Centre, 621 new HIV/Aids cases were reported through November 20 of this year; this brought Shanghai's total to 2,216, 97 of whom died, this in a city of more than 20 million. The number of male victims was 4.5 times higher than the figure for females, and people between age 25 and 44 were the most affected group.

More than 80 per cent of all HIV carriers were migrant workers from out of town, and among that group, intravenous drug use was the main transmission pathway. By contrast, unprotected sex was the main cause of infection among people with local residency registration.

The rise in Shanghai is much greater than the national average. Across China the reported number of HIV cases grew by about 30 per cent to 183,733, primarily due to intravenous drug use.

Health ministry figures indicate that half of the country's drug users still share dirty needles. But health authorities have acknowledged that the real figures are probably much higher and that there is a need for a greater commitment to prevention, control and care.

"AIDS is on the rise in Shanghai due to lack of knowledge about disease prevention and the rising migrant population," said Cai Wei, director of Shanghai' Public Health Bureau.

However, in the city as in rest of the country there are no specific plans as to how to fight the disease. The bureau is planning never the less to open methadone maintenance centres in another three districts to help limit the spread of the AIDS virus among drug users who share and reuse needles. However, this leaves migrants out in the cold since they are not covered by the local health care system and have no interest in registering with local medical centres as residents.

More importantly, China has for years promoted safer sex and methadone as a drug substitute as ways to combat the spread of the disease but this strategy has failed to reduce in any significant way the spread of HIV.

The bureau will also carry out AIDS awareness efforts—pamphlets on AIDS and condoms—in railway stations, construction sites and other places where migrants congregate. However, it seems that health care and other services will remain off-limits to migrants, which is a major factor preventing appropriate action against drug abuse among those who come to the city for a better job. (PB)

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