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Annan: China Has 'No Time to Lose' in Fighting AIDS


The head of the United Nations is warning China there is "no time to lose" if it wants to prevent a major AIDS epidemic.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan arrived in China focusing firmly on the threat AIDS and the HIV virus that causes it poses to China.

"Today, China stands on the brink of an explosive AIDS epidemic. Over the past few years, the HIV virus has spread to more and more parts of this country. The epidemic has become a moving target, and is at risk of spinning out of control," Mr. Annan said.

The United Nations estimates that more than 10 million Chinese could be infected in the next decade unless the government does more to fight the deadly disease.

Mr. Annan says up to now, the virus has mostly been spreading in China through sharing infected needles to inject illegal drugs or through grossly mismanaged blood donation systems in rural areas.

But now, more new cases are contracted through sexual contact - a sign that infection rates will increase.

Until recently, China had denied it had an AIDS problem and Mr. Annan says that was a terrible idea. "Speaking openly about the epidemic is the first step toward winning the fight against it. Silence is death. People need to know they can be tested without shame. That if they are infected, they will be treated, that if they fall ill, they can live safe from discrimination," he said.

Chinese officials recently began giving more realistic statistics on the number of infections in the country and have set aside more money for public health and education programs. AIDS activists and experts call these small steps in the right direction, but urge Beijing to put more resources into the battle.

The secretary-general said the picture is not all bleak, experience in other countries shows that education programs can teach people how to avoid infection, slowing the growth of the epidemic.