11/30/2005, 00.00
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More than 840,000 HIV-positive people in China

The phenomenon is actually far more widespread than confirmed cases. WHO predicts 10 million cases by 2010 if adequate prevention measures are not taken. Information and education are scarce in rural areas and among migrant workers.  The disappointing results are also thanks to poor collaboration by local governments.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Chinese government is pressing ahead with its battle against HIV infection and says the situation is "under control" even if it foresees an increase in infections. Much is expected from a widespread awareness campaign. But so far, local governments have not been forthcoming and collaboration is poor. This was stated in official statements on the eve of the World AIDS Day.

On 28 November, Wu Yi, China's Vice Premier, admitted to 135,630 confirmed HIV-positive cases at the end of September, that is, 50 or 60,000 more than 2004, according to data released by the State Council's Committee for AIDS Prevention and Care. Of these, 31,143 have AIDS. However the government estimates that there are no less than 840,000 cases of HIV and 80,000 cases of AIDS. United Nations estimates are worse, putting the figure at anywhere between 430,000 and 1.5 million cases of infection.

In a video conference for health workers and public officials, Wu accused local authorities of neglecting the problem and not contributing enough to the national drive of prevention and care. The situation, he said, was "still serious" because of prevalent ignorance, insufficient controls and testing. He criticized the "blind optimism" of those who believed "the local situation was not serious" and of those who still "discussed whether contraceptives should be distributed, and methadone and clean syringes supplied". According to Wu, greater education of public officials was called for, as well as more widespread awareness-raising through the media.
Blood transfusion is still a significant route of transmission, accounting for 23% of cases, especially in rural areas where poor peasants sell blood. But the main route of transmission – according to latest reports – is the shared use of syringes between drug addicts, accounting for 40.8% of cases. Infection through sexual transmission accounted for 9% while another 23% of infections were put down to "unknown" causes, but most likely arising from sexual transmission.

For years, Bejing has denied the extent of the country's infection rate, which rose in the nineties because of a lack of precautions and testing in sale of blood (especially from poor peasants). However, in recent years, the authorities have recognized that the disease has spread and they are seeking to stop it. In 2004, the public health authorities supplied free treatment to people with AIDS while orphans whose parents died of the disease enjoy free education. Last year, television footage showed the President, Hu Jintao, and the Premier Wen Jiabao, visiting AIDS and HIV-positive patients in a Beijing hospital and shaking hands with them.

For 2005, the government allocated 800 million yuan (around 99 million US dollars) for disease prevention. An extensive awareness and prevention campaign is planned for high schools and universities as well as rural villages. The Health Minister, Gao Qiang, said that on 1 December, an education programme targeting millions of migrant workers will be launched.

In 2004, according to the United Nations, AIDS killed between 21,000 and 75,000 Chinese, especially poor peasants in whom the disease was never even diagnosed. The World Health Organisation says that if adequate prevention measures are not taken, there will 10 million HIV-positive people in China by 2010. Gao was more optimistic: he is looking to keep the number of infections below 1.5 million. He said yesterday: "AIDS prevention work is an issue relating to the quality of the population, economic development, social stability and the rise or decline of the country."

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