The United States is promising to help China fight HIV and AIDS, while at the same time asking Chinese officials to be more forthcoming in their reporting of infection figures.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control opened its first Global AIDS Program office in Beijing to support China's battle against HIV/AIDS. The aim is to avoid what visiting CDC director Julie Gerberding said is a potential health catastrophe in the world's most populous nation.
"China right now is at the beginning of a very serious stage of its HIV problem," said Dr. Gerberding. "There is not a large percentage of people infected, but if we do not take quick action now, this epidemic could very quickly expand into the tragic situation that we see in Sub-Saharan Africa."
U.S. health officials call the trend of HIV infection in China alarming, with more than one million people now infected. The officials say the country is at risk of a general epidemic that could lead to the infection of ten million people by 2010.
AIDS activists say the Chinese government's past record of not reporting accurate figures on HIV-AIDS has been a big part of the problem.
Activists say last year's outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome was a clear example of what happens when disease figures are not reported openly and accurately. Chinese leaders came under heavy international criticism for trying to cover up the spread of the disease, which killed more than 900 people worldwide, most of them in China.
At the opening of the CDC office in Beijing, Chinese Vice Minister of Health Huang Jiefu said SARS taught his government many lessons. "One important lesson is the importance of international cooperation," said Dr. Huang. "Swift and meaningful action will start. The Chinese government will honor its commitment and take very transparent [steps] to deal with this public threat to the world."
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson met with Chinese health officials on Sunday and urged them to be more open in their reporting of figures, especially as China braces for a possible reemergence of SARS this winter.
The United States has pledged nearly $15 million in AIDS help to China, and Secretary Thompson announced a two-year, $21 million grant from the United Nations.
Observers say that by accepting more international AIDS funding, China will be under added pressure to make its reporting of disease figures more transparent.