China's reported cases of HIV/AIDS jumped 30 percent in the first 10 months of this year with intravenous drug use the biggest source of infection, the Health Ministry said yesterday.
Joel Rehnstrom, coordinator for the UNAIDS China office, said the increase in reported cases indicates that China is doing "more testing and more reporting and also that the epidemic continues to grow in many parts of the country."
The reported number of cases grew to 183,733 by Oct. 31 this year, up from 144,089 at the end of last year, the Health Ministry said in a report posted on its Web site.
Of the reported cases, 40,667 have developed into AIDS, it said. During the same period there were 4,060 AIDS deaths, bringing the total number of reported deaths in China due to the disease to 12,464 since it was identified in the mid-1990s.
Rehnstrom said reported HIV cases have been steadily increasing at a rate of about 30 percent annually since 1999 but that the real number of HIV cases in China is likely four to five times the reported figure.
"Each new HIV infection is a tragedy," Rehnstrom said. "The government needs to focus its efforts on ... trying to stop the spread of HIV and to trying to bring the spread of HIV under control as soon as possible by controlling HIV transmission among injecting drug users and sex workers."
He said government efforts to promote clean needles and methadone treatments were beginning to have an effect but that those programs needed to be expanded.
The ministry said 37 percent of the cases reported this year were linked to drug use and 28 percent were caused by unsafe sex.
Last year, 90 percent of the HIV infections among drug users were found in seven provinces or autonomous regions, including Yunnan, Xinjiang, Guangxi, Guangdong, Guizhou, Sichuan and Hunan, Rehnstrom said. The health ministry didn't give specifics for the geographical distribution of this year's figures.
"What I've seen and what makes me sad is that it is often young men in their 20s [who contract HIV through drug use] and when you ask them why they started using drugs in the first place, they say it was just to try something new or because of peer pressure," Rehnstrom said.
"Many of them started using drugs several years ago before there was any awareness-raising campaign about HIV," he said.
Authorities have only recently acknowledged the AIDS problem.