Tue, Dec 02, 2014 - Page 1 News List

WHO warns China on HIV/AIDS rise

‘UNACCEPTABLE’:The agency said the government must improve prevention and treatment after state figures showed almost 500,000 people in China have HIV or AIDS

AFP, BEIJING

Migrant workers receive health packages from the local branch of HIV/AIDS awareness group the Red Ribbon Foundation in Liaocheng, China, on Sunday.

Photo: AFP

The WHO issued a call to action to Beijing yesterday to fight HIV/AIDS in China after government figures showed that nearly half a million people in the country are living with the disease or its precursor, with hundreds of thousands more thought to be undiagnosed.

The WHO’s representative in China, Bernhard Schwartlaender, wrote in an opinion piece in the state-run China Daily that “there is much more China needs to do” to prevent infection and better help those living with HIV.

“Perhaps most importantly, we must eliminate stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV and at-risk populations such as men who have sex with men, sex workers and injecting drug users,” he wrote. “I’ve seen some of my own colleagues in the medical profession turn patients away because they disapproved of the person’s sexual orientation. That is simply unacceptable and it has to stop.”

The piece was published on World AIDS Day yesterday, a day after China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission said that by the end of October, a total of 497,000 people in the country had been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS since its first reported case in 1985.

The figure is up from September last year, when 434,000 people were known to be living with HIV/AIDS in China, but it was unclear if the rise was due to an increase in infection, or more cases being diagnosed.

Another 154,000 people have died from AIDS over the past three decades, the commission said.

China’s National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention last year estimated that as many as 810,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS in the country, including those who have not been diagnosed, out of a total population of 1.36 billion.

That is a far lower proportion than India, where UNAIDS — the UN’s Joint Program on HIV and AIDS — says there are more 2 million people living with HIV in a slightly smaller total population.

More than 250,000 HIV-positive people are on antiretroviral treatment in China, UNAIDS China director Catherine Sozi wrote in a China Daily piece on Saturday last week.

China “needs to increasingly go beyond its initial success in the roll-out of large-scale HIV programs and focus on how to reach people who are currently falling through the cracks,” she wrote.

Sexual contact is the most common means of transmission in China, followed by mother-to-baby transmission and drug needle sharing, the commission said.

In the 1990s, rural parts of China — particularly the central province of Henan — were hit by the country’s most debilitating AIDS epidemic. The outbreak stemmed from a tainted government-backed blood donation program and infected tens of thousands, including entire villages.

However, sexual transmission now accounts for more than 90 percent of infections, Xinhua news agency said, citing China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gay men accounted for 25 percent of new HIV cases in the first eight months of the year, the center said, up from 19 percent in 2012.

Discrimination against those with HIV/AIDS remains an issue at hospitals, workplaces and other establishments nationwide, a factor that experts say hampers efforts to diagnose and treat the virus.

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