Fri, Nov 30, 2007 - Page 5 News List

AIDS cases slowing but challenges remain: China

AP , BEIJING

The of people estimated to be living with HIV in China has risen to 700,000 and continues to be a challenge among high-risk populations, according to a report released yesterday by the UN and the Chinese government.

The government had previously estimated 650,000 to be living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

There were 50,000 new cases this year, mainly among intravenous drug users and sex workers, said the joint assessment by UNAIDS and a committee of the State Council.

"China's HIV epidemic remains one of low prevalence overall, but with pockets of high infection among specific sub-populations," said the 38-page report, which was to be officially released on World AIDS Day tomorrow. "A number of core challenges remain."

Those include the need for better advocacy and education, improved treatment and care, and more focused education and discrimination reduction, it said.

The report also noted that the number of cases of HIV officially reported still remained at only 223,501 -- far lower than the estimated total in part because of people's reluctance to seek testing. The officially reported figure includes those who developed AIDS and those who died from the disease.

HIV gained a foothold largely due to unsanitary blood plasma-buying schemes and tainted transfusions in local hospitals. But Chinese Minister of Health Chen Zhu (陳竺) said yesterday that this had been "effectively contained."

After years of denying that there was an AIDS problem, officials have shifted gears dramatically in recent years, confronting the disease more openly and promising anonymous testing, free treatment for the poor and a ban on discrimination against people with the virus. The topic remains very sensitive and authorities regularly crack down on activists and patients seeking more rights.

In 2004, China scaled back the estimated number of people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, from nearly 1 million people to 840,000, and then further lowered the figure to 650,000 in 2005.

Experts have said the figures are probably accurate because they are in line with a change in the way data are collected.

According to yesterday's report, there was an increase in the number of infections through heterosexual sex, as well as transmissions between sex workers and their clients.

Khalid Malik, the UN resident coordinator in China, said HIV/AIDS remained a "large challenge" in China.

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