China - One Million AIDS Cases -
Warns Of Ten-Fold Increase


AFP) -- China has around a million people infected with the HIV virus, a figure that could increase ten-fold by the end of the decade, a top government health official warned.
The country is standing on the verge of an AIDS epidemic, said Qi Xiaoqiu, head of the Department of Disease Control of the Ministry of Health, in an unusually frank official assessment of the problem.
"It is estimated that the total HIV-positive population stood at almost one million" at the end of June, Qi told a briefing.
"It's very difficult to get the exact number, but we can tell you that AIDS is at a very dangerous stage in China and on the verge of becoming an epidemic," he said.
According to a UN report released in June, China could have around 1.5 million people carrying HIV, the virus which causes AIDS, and faces an "AIDS catastrophe" if a proper course of action is not taken.
Speaking with rare candor on a subject Beijing is often keen to play down, Qi said China could see around a million more HIV cases every year this decade unless effective measures are adopted.
"If the AIDS epidemic is not dealt with efficiently, by the year 2010 there is the likelihood of more than 10 million HIV or AIDS patients in China," he said.
While China now has the fourth-largest number of HIV and AIDS cases in Asia, the growth rate is falling, at least for the time being, according to official figures.
The late-June figure marks a rise of about 17 percent over six months, while last year's overall growth rate was as high as 58 percent, Qi said.
But the multiple causes of AIDS in China -- varying from region to region -- mean the country's health system is tested to the limits as it comes under a multi-pronged attack.
In the western part of the country, such as Yunnan province bordering the "Golden Triangle" opium producing region, it has spread on the back of rampant drug abuse.
In the destitute central provinces, large numbers have been infected through tainted blood collections, while in the boom cities of the east coast, it is mainly transmitted sexually, he said.
The challenge China is facing is so serious that it may break patents on Western AIDS drugs if talks with foreign pharmaceutical companies over cutting prices do not succeed by early next year.
China wishes to respect the patents, but an agreement must be reached within the next few months, said Qi.
"(Otherwise) we will have to take the other choice," he said. "We cannot afford to wait any longer."
Despite growing recognition in China of the scope of the problem, independent AIDS activists are often treated with suspicion bordering on hostility.
Wan Yanhai, one of China's most prominent AIDS activists, has been arrested for allegedly revealing state secrets, his wife said Friday.
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