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UN Warns of AIDS Spread in China

The head of United Nations' efforts to fight AIDS says 10 million Chinese could be infected with the lethal disease unless the country takes prompt, strong action. Dr. Peter Piot addressed China's first national conference on the AIDS epidemic.

U.N. AIDS Chief Peter Piot told reporters that by the end of this year, China may have one million people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. He said until now, the deadly disease has been found mostly in high-risk groups on the fringes of Chinese society, such as prostitutes and users of illegal drugs.

But he said that is changing. "Immediate action is essential to prevent AIDS from taking hold in the general population," he said.

He wared that without strong leadership from politicians, health experts, union officials and others, the epidemic could explode into the mainstream of Chinese society. It is clear that over the coming decade, as many as 10 million HIV infections can be averted in China," he said.

The U.N. official said Chinese officials are more open to dealing with the disease than they have been in the past and he said they are making some progress.

Chinese officials say they have boosted the budget to fight AIDS and have cracked down on illegal blood donation organizations that helped spread the deadly virus in the past.

But there apparently is still work to be done. And the U.N. AIDS chief told journalists that their stories educating people about how to avoid getting AIDS can "save more lives than doctors can right now." But Chinese officials have blocked reporting efforts in the past and sometimes have detained reporters and photographers covering AIDS stories.