AIDS Spreading Through China - Situation 'Very Grave'
BEIJING (Reuters) - China, sounding a warning bell over the rapid spread of AIDS through its rural population, has approved an ambitious programme to curb HIV transmission by the year 2010, official media said on Friday.
The Beijing Morning Post said the national programme was based on the belief that the spread of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) was largely preventable. ``China has entered a period of rapid AIDS growth. The situation is very grave,'' the newspaper quoted a health ministry official as saying.
``Unless effective action is taken, the number of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) cases could top one million by the year 2000.'' Under the programme, approved by the State Council, or cabinet, and expected to begin in December, China hopes to stop all transmission of HIV from blood transfers by the year 2010 and reduce its spread among intravenous drug users by 15 percent.
The newspaper gave no further details on the anti-HIV drive, although Xinhua news agency said the scheme would be backed up with a multi-media travelling exhibition urging improved AIDS awareness. The exhibit would start in Beijing and travel to the southern cities of Guangzhou and Nanning, the official news agency said. Ministry figures show China has 11,170 confirmed HIV cases. Of those infected, 338 had developed full-blown AIDS and 184 had already died.
But health officials warn the actual number of HIV patients could be as high as 300,000, since only high-risk groups such as drug addicts, prostitutes and blood donors have been tested. Southwestern Yunnan province recorded the highest incidence of HIV, followed by northwestern Xinjiang region, the ministry said. About 80 percent of those infected were males aged between 20 and 40, the ministry added. Most were farmers infected through intravenous drug use, and only a fraction by homosexual contact. ``Chinese health officials acknowledge that most ordinary citizens lack even a remote understanding of the disease which has existed in China for the past 13 years,'' Xinhua said.
China's blood banks have also been blamed for spreading HIV. Widespread shortages of domestic blood have fuelled underground blood banks, where donors are not screened for disease. The government banned the sale of blood in October and has stepped up a campaign to encourage voluntary donations at legitimate clinics.