Mon, Jul 12, 2004 - Page 2 News List

HIV incidence increasing here

FOREWARNED A recent report about HIV carriers increasing in one local prison population has triggered alarm about the spread of the disease throughout Taiwan

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

As the spread of AIDS accelerates in China, 22 new HIV cases were reportedly discovered in Tainan Prison on Saturday, causing alarm among local officials.

Following a local Chinese-language newspaper report indicating that HIV was being spread among the prisoners, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) under the Department of Health (DOH) refuted the story, saying that the inmates were HIV-positive before being jailed and were quarantined from other inmates.

The report has raised concerns about an increase in HIV among Taiwan's drug users.

"Over the past three years, we have seen the fastest spread of AIDS in intravenous drug users," said Shih Wen-yi (施文儀), the CDC's deputy director-general.

According to DOH statistics, 2.1 percent of Taiwan's 5,789 HIV carriers are drug users. Eleven new cases were found in 2002 and 58 last year. Sixty-five new HIV carriers have already been discovered in the first six months of this year.

"Needle-sharing among drug users has become the key driver of the epidemic in Taiwan," Shih said. "The DOH efforts have not been sufficient. Drug smuggling has undermined our efforts to keep the disease contained," he said.

"Another threat is the virus' spread across the strait," Shih said. "Due to geographical proximity, Taiwan is vulnerable to any epidemic that erupts in China."

Reports of the expansion of HIV in China have fuelled anxiety over the spread of AIDS in Taiwan.

According to the UN's latest biannual report on AIDS released last week, if China fails to take effective measures against the pandemic, the number of infected individuals will reach 10 million within the next six years.

David Ho (何大一), a member of Academia Sinica and an AIDS researcher, also expressed concern about the potential danger posed by the spread of AIDS in China. At a medical conference in Taichung last Friday, Ho showed photos of an AIDS-ravaged village in Henan province, pointing out that an estimated 1 million people are living with HIV across the Taiwan Strait.

"Although a million is a relatively low figure compared to that of India [4 million], the number [of infected people in China] is skyrocketing at record-setting speed," Ho said.

Experts called for the public to gear up for a battle against AIDS.

"The Center for Disease Control has done a good job in fighting AIDS," said Wu Shuh-min (吳樹民), director of the Foundation of Medical Professionals Alliance in Taiwan. "Yet, there is no room for complacency. We are worried that the disease will soon make inroads here in Taiwan."

The CDC also said that it will begin to employ a range of HIV prevention programs to stem the spread of the disease.

"Apart from condom usage and avoiding contaminated needles, we strongly recommend premarital check-ups," Shih said.

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