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China Begins Aggressive AIDS Prevention Campaign; Vows to Keep HIV-Infected Rate Under 1.5 Million

China brought out a campaign targeting millions of migrant workers on World AIDS Day, one day after its declaration of keeping its number of HIV-infected people under 1.5 million in the next five year
( [email protected] ) Dec 01, 2005 03:26 PM EST

China brought out a campaign targeting millions of migrant workers on World AIDS Day, one day after its declaration of keeping its number of HIV-infected people under 1.5 million in the next five years.

The campaign aimed at some 120 million migrant workers, with Chinese Central Television showing condoms being passed out to workers at a Beijing construction site.

China's government estimates about 840,000 people could be infected with HIV and 80,000 others are likely to be living with full-blown AIDS. However, only about 167,000 are registered as being infected.

"We still have a long way to go in AIDS prevention, we cannot slack off in doing this work," said China's Vice Prime Minister Wu Yi at the launch.

UNAIDS has warned up to 10 million could be infected in China by 2010 without more aggressive prevention.

The official China Daily newspaper said injecting drug users now account for the bulk of infections, followed by unclean blood selling practices and unsafe sex. Three of the five regions in China with the highest incidence of HIV infections are along the borders with Myanmar and Thailand, one of the world's largest heroin-producing areas.

Although China began its AIDS prevention drive today, it faces the challenge of keeping the number of HIV-infected people to prevent adverse consequences.

AIDS prevention and control are key to China's "economic development, social stability and prosperity," Health Minister Gao Qiang said at a news conference ahead of World AIDS Day on Thursday. "A good job in AIDS prevention and treatment is a must for the government at all levels."

The government has earmarked $100 million for AIDS prevention and treatment this year, which is eight times more than in 2002 , with the money to be used for treatment, education and testing, Gao said.

"The Chinese government can effectively control the momentum of the spread of AIDS in the country," he said. "We need to increase funding, enhance surveillance, increase the spread of information and education on the disease."

China says it has 840,000 people infected with HIV and 80,000 with full-blown AIDS. But the United Nations' AIDS agency says that the true figure is likely higher, and that up to 10 million could be infected by 2010 without more aggressive prevention.

Gao said HIV transmission through shared intravenous drug needles and unprotected sex has "risen rapidly in recent years." He did not give more details.

However, the incidence of infection by blood transfusion has fallen sharply due to repeated campaigns since the 1990s, Gao said.

HIV gained an early foothold in China, largely due to unsanitary blood plasma-buying schemes and tainted transfusions in hospitals.

AIDS activists have criticized China's government for being slow to admit the extent of the disease there.

Earlier this year, the government opted to promote anti-HIV strategies that the socially conservative communist government had previously considered taboo, such as free condoms and needle exchanges.

In recent years, Beijing has become increasingly open about AIDS and has offered free testing and counseling, as well as free treatment for the poor.

However, authorities routinely arrest or harass people demanding better treatment and care.

Countries across Asia said more focus must be placed on educating young people if the world has any chance of getting a grip on the disease. An estimated 8.3 million people are living with HIV in Asia, with 1.1 million newly infected last year, UNAIDS said in a recent report.

"It's certainly not sufficient to focus on HIV/AIDS one day a year," an U.S. Ambassador Michael Marine said. "It's something that should be in the forefront of people's minds all the time."