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US, UN, China Launch Joint Campaign on HIV-AIDS Education


The United States, China, and the United Nations' International Labor Organization have launched an education campaign on the prevention and handling of HIV-AIDS in the workplace. The campaign will focus on preventing the spread of HIV, and ways to stop discrimination against those who have it. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

The U.S.-funded, $3.5 million campaign will target industrial sectors in China where workers are known to engage in high-risk behavior, such as commercial sex and intravenous drug use.

That means targeting China's estimated 200 million mostly male migrant workers, who are often away from their wives for long periods of time.

Few migrant workers receive education on sexual diseases, and there is a concern that those who have unsafe sex with prostitutes may spread the AIDS virus among the general population when they return to their hometowns.

Chinese officials say there is already a trend of HIV moving from high-risk groups to the general population.

Zheng Dongliang is a deputy director in China's Ministry of Labor and Social Security, and the national manager of the new program. He says China's HIV-AIDS situation is at a critical stage.

Zheng says there are 650,000 people in China infected with AIDS. But he says some predictions are that by 2010, China could have 10 million people infected with the disease.

Most of those suffering HIV-AIDS have acquired the disease from drug use, by sharing dirty needles.

However, the U.N.'s AIDS office in Beijing says sexual transmission may have now overtaken intravenous drug use as the most common way of spreading HIV.

HIV testing is becoming more common in China, but so is discrimination against those who are found to be infected.

The ILO's technical advisor, Richard Howard, says the new program aims to reduce discrimination by helping companies develop confidential testing and counseling procedures. "What we often see is that when an employee comes back to a company, perhaps needing assistance to access benefits for health care, that there is a leak in confidentiality," said Howard, "and that's often where the problem starts."

China for years denied it had an AIDS problem. But the discovery of a cover-up of another sometimes-deadly disease, SARS, in 2003, led to an international outcry. That embarrassed the government, and Beijing came out in active support of AIDS education and prevention.