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New Survey Indicates Little AIDS Awareness in China - 2002-07-09

A new survey shows most people in China know very little about AIDS. One in six people say they have never heard of the disease.

The survey finds that of those who have heard of AIDS, nearly three-quarters, do not know how it is caused and almost 90 percent did not know how it can be detected.

The survey, done by China's State Family Planning Commission and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, finds almost 77 percent of respondents did not know AIDS could be prevented by using condoms correctly.

Sheng Qi is a Beijing artist who has been nominated for an award for his work in AIDS awareness. Mr. Sheng said many Chinese people think people can get AIDS from shaking hands, from hugging and from a kiss. They also think you can get it from public toilets and that it is transmitted in the air.

The United Nations said in June that China was on the brink of an AIDS epidemic of unimaginable proportion. According to the United Nations, up to 1.5 million Chinese are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and without effective measures the figure could grow to 10 million by the end of the decade.

Siri Tellier is the chairwoman for China for a U.N. team fighting AIDS. "The level of knowledge about it in China is very low," she said. "It is a problem for two reasons. One is that the less you know, the more you are likely to stigmatize those who do have it because you are afraid of catching it from them. And the other, of course, is that you can avoid that they get it themselves."

China is stepping up safe-sex education and is attempting to tackle the problem of contaminated blood collection in rural areas. Many people in the countryside became infected with HIV by selling their blood to unscrupulous collectors who used dirty needles. Ms. Tellier, however, said more must be done to slow the spread of the disease. "The media, the educational system, the people who are the opinion makers all these people must be involved in the response so that people will start believing, without panicking, this is something that could happen to me too.

The survey shows that more than half the respondents did not know AIDS can be transmitted by tainted blood and more than 80 percent did not know it could be transmitted by dirty needles.