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China Expands Battle Against AIDS - 2002-05-27

China is escalating its fight against an AIDS epidemic that has already killed some 100,000 people, and AIDS cases are growing exponentially each year.

After years of ignoring the existence of AIDS, Chinese state media are stepping up a publicity campaign to help combat widespread ignorance and apathy about the disease.

The official China Daily newspaper Monday says cases of AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are spreading at the alarming rate of more than 50 percent annually.

It says 850,000 people in China are now infected with the HIV virus, and 200,000 people have full-blown AIDS.

Health experts say the real number of AIDS and HIV cases are likely to be even higher than official estimates. "The rate of increase is what's most important about this," said Alan Schnur, a World Health Organization researcher on communicable diseases in China. "The rate is still going up. and that means urgent action needs to be taken. Another factor is the geographical distribution. It's not only the number of cases, but the geographical distribution within the country. All of the provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions have now reported cases," he said.

Chinese state media say more than three-quarters of confirmed HIV cases are caused by the sharing of needles among intravenous drug users. Poor hygiene in companies that illegally buy blood accounts for another 10 percent of cases.

Yen Chan, deputy head of the Hong Kong AIDS Foundation, says that in a sign of its growing concern about AIDS, the Chinese government is intensifying efforts to train local doctors and officials about the disease. "The Chinese government has issued an action plan for 2001-2005 to all the provinces and their health departments," said Ms. Chan. "And some of the actions are quite practical. For example, they would like to train 80 percent of their practitioners to know more about HIV/AIDS in each province."

Ms. Chan adds that as awareness about AIDS increases, more and more Chinese are getting tested for the HIV virus. She says that in 2001, more than seven million Chinese took an HIV test. That's an increase of one-third over the previous year.