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China Estimates 850,000 Infected with the AIDS Virus - 2002-04-11

China says an estimated 850,000 people are infected with the AIDS virus. That is a 40 percent increase over the government's previous estimate. Health organizations say actual numbers may be much higher, and call for urgent action to slow the AIDS epidemic.

The official Xinhua News Agency says that 100,000 Chinese may have already died from AIDS. Citing new Ministry of Health statistics Thursday, Xinhua reports there are almost 31,000 people confirmed to be carrying HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. But it says that as many as 850,000 Chinese are believed to be infected.

The new official figures on AIDS are sharply higher than the 600,000 cases the government published earlier. A World Health Organization researcher on communicable diseases in China, Alan Schnur, welcomes the revised figures as a sign of greater openness about the spread of AIDS. "I think that the larger estimate, which has been released, is a good sign. It reflects the government's concern about the problem. They are acknowledging that the epidemic is increasing at a rather high percentage," Mr. Schnur said.

Xinhua reports that authorities believe the real number of people infected with the AIDS virus is even higher than official statistics. It says the number of patients with full-blown AIDS may have reached 200,000.

Mr. Schnur says there is still very little awareness about the disease in many towns and villages across China. Local health officials often do not report the true number of AIDS or HIV cases. "These estimates could even be behind the curve. The actual number of HIV cases could be even more than these estimates. We've been saying that unless urgent action is taken, the number of HIV positive will continue to increase at this high percentage," Mr. Schnur said.

Xinhua says that almost 70 percent of confirmed HIV infections are caused by the sharing of needles among intravenous drug users. Poor hygiene in companies that illegally buy blood accounts for about 10 percent of cases.