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Sexual Transmission of AIDS Outpaces Drug Use Transmission in China

  • Stephanie Ho

Sexual transmission - specifically heterosexual transmission - has become the number one channel for the spread of AIDS in China. The United Nations and China's Ministry of Health have begun a campaign to fight the stigma attached to AIDS in the country, in hope of slowing the spread.

Sexual transmission - specifically heterosexual transmission - has become the number one channel for the spread of AIDS in China. The United Nations and China's Ministry of Health have begun a campaign to fight the stigma attached to AIDS in the country, in hope of slowing the spread.

Chinese Vice Health Minister Huang Jiefu says as of the end of last year, there were 740,000 Chinese diagnosed as having HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Huang says sexual contact has overtaken drug use transmission as the major transmission channel in China.

He said Friday that about 44 percent of all HIV-positive people contracted it through heterosexual transmission. This compares with about 15 percent via homosexual transmission and 32 percent from intravenous drug use, which the Chinese government used to focus on as the main source of HIV infection.

Huang's comments came at an event sponsored by UNAIDS to introduce a new campaign to fight the stigma attached to AIDS and discrimination against AIDS patients in China.

UNAIDS and China's Ministry of Health also collaborated on their first report on the so-called China Stigma Index, with accounts from more than 2,000 Chinese living with HIV.

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe praised the Chinese government for not just officially discussing the AIDS problem and providing treatment, but also addressing issues like stigma.

"I remember, just 25 years ago, no one wanted to talk about AIDS in Africa. They would say it is not existing," he said.

Sidibe says the number of HIV-positive people in China - 740,000 - is not huge compared with the country's population of more than one billion people. But he says there is a sense of urgency, based on the number of people who are considered to be at risk of contracting the virus, especially as China becomes an economic powerhouse.

"It is attracting a lot of people, attracting people from outside, in the global world, but making also an internal movement [that is] very high," said Sidibe. "We are talking about 200 million people moving around internally, just with internal displacement. We estimate around 50 million people at risk.

In China, another channel for AIDS transmission has been blood transfusions, mostly in the 1990s.

Chang, a farmer from central Henan Province, contracted AIDS when he sold his blood in 1998. He was among a group of about 30 AIDS patients from Henan who came to Beijing earlier this week to protest for care and compensation in front of the Ministry of Health.

The farmer says after he got to Beijing, a policeman suggested that instead of protesting, he should just jump off a building and kill himself.

Vice Health Minister Huang acknowledged the protest. But he said the Chinese government has taken stronger steps to control plasma products, and that blood transfusions are no longer what he described as a "major channel" of AIDS transmission.

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