China has renewed its pledge to fight the spread of AIDS and the virus that causes it, HIV. Chinese leaders stated their commitment on World AIDS Day as international experts warn the number of infections in China could reach 10 million in six years.
Chinese official media featured leaders visiting AIDS victims at a hospital. Television footage showed President Hu Jintao talking to a patient.
The Chinese leader asked a patient when he was infected. He told the patient the Communist Party, the government, and the whole of Chinese society care about him and will help him. The Chinese president advised the patient to work with doctors for an early recovery.
Official media also quoted Prime Minister Wen Jiabao as urging government departments to make AIDS prevention a high priority.
Experts say the government has made some progress from the days a few years ago when it denied that AIDS existed in China. But they say much more needs to be done beyond merely recognizing the problem.
Chinese authorities say 840,000 people are infected with HIV in China. International experts suspect the figure is much higher.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is warning that millions of infected people could be hiding from authorities and neighbors, and going without diagnosis or treatment. John Sparrow of the agency's Beijing office says more needs to be done to end the stigma that prevents victims from seeking help.
"It is very widespread," he said. "It is in every community. A survey, for example, in Sichuan province, showed that 88 percent of the population thought HIV-positive people should not be in contact with others. That is a fairly widespread opinion."
Authorities continue to isolate a number of villages in central China because of their high HIV-infection rates, a practice that advocates say only promotes ignorance about the disease.
A survey in rural areas and in cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, showed only nine percent of respondents knew exactly how HIV is transmitted.