The Chinese government yesterday urged its citizens to get tested for HIV, as activists warned the country faced another AIDS crisis surrounding people who contracted the disease from blood transfusions.
"We encourage our citizens to have HIV virus tests in qualified institutions," Health Minister Gao Qiang (高強) told a news conference on the eve of World AIDS Day.
"We don't want to see the scenario ... where a mother who got AIDS passes it to her child."
China has maintained for years it has 840,000 people who are HIV positive, although independent estimates put the figure much higher.
Many people in China have contracted the disease from the country's unsafe supply of blood, which the government only began to actively clean up in 1998.
AIDS activists and victims said patients are now beginning to find out they contracted the disease when doctors gave them transfusions during routine procedures such as cesarean sections or abortions.
They found out on their own, often too late, after they had infected their husband and children. They are now demanding the government conduct a proper investigation to find victims, inform them, and prevent the disease spreading.
Activists, who organized a conference on blood safety, issued a statement at the end of the conference yesterday demanding the government inform all blood or blood product users from 1987 to this year to have voluntary testing for HIV.
"These people are very deserving of our sympathy. They got transfusions to save their lives, but it actually hurt their lives," Beijing-based activist Hu Jia said.
"Unlike the farmers in `AIDS villages' who sold blood, they are very spread out and don't know each other. They [are] only slowly [finding] out they are HIV positive and that there are others like them."
Gao did not say how many people became infected through transfusions, but revealed a recent government study conducted with international groups found only 70,000 Chinese people with full-blown AIDS.
The number with AIDS was 10,000 less than the previous official figure.
Gao did not explain how the study was conducted and whether it was thorough.
"We are in the final stage of verification, but the assessment from the experts are more or less the same," he said.