In a new report, Human Rights Watch says China's AIDS epidemic not only constitutes a health crisis but also a human rights disaster. The rights group says Chinese authorities have done little to compensate thousands of citizens who contracted HIV through the blood collection system.

Human Rights Watch says HIV and AIDS patients suffer widespread discrimination, mistreatment and neglect in China.

The group's executive director Brad Adams says one of gravest human rights grievances is that thousands of Chinese were infected with HIV through the blood transfusion system. This problem was particularly common in Henan province in central China.

He suggests that China's government compensate victims of the blood collection centers immediately. Mr. Adams, who is based in the group's New York headquarters, made the comments Wednesday in a speech in Hong Kong.

"The Henan blood scandal in which both government people and business people colluded to process blood products so they could obtain the plasma and re-injected it back into the donors and infected them," he explained. "Those people who contracted HIV in this manner they should receive anti-retroviral treatment and it should be paid for by the state."

At least one million people in China are infected with HIV, which causes AIDS. Human Rights Watch suggests the disease could infect hundreds of millions in the next 20 years if the spread is not checked.

Mr. Adams says many infected persons are forced to live "like fugitives" when their HIV status becomes known.

He says hospitals often refuse to treat people with HIV, employers fire infected workers and landlords evict tenants with HIV. According to the report, many AIDS sufferers turn to intravenous drug use to ease their pain and isolation. That, in turn, helps spread the virus through the use of dirty needles.

Mr. Adams says China demonstrated during the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome this year that it is able to disseminate health information but has not done so in the battle against AIDS.

"SARS caught the attention of the Chinese authorities because it was affecting the economy," said Brad Adams. "China showed what it can do in a public emergency. China did more than what people expected, it was taken seriously at the top."

Mr. Adams says a freer news media and the accurate dissemination of information could improve support networks for those infected with HIV.

The report, however, applauds China's recent application to the Global Health Fund to Fight AIDS. The rights group sees the move as the closest the government has come to admitting the extent of the problem.