Chinese, American AIDS researchers to cooperate closely

Chinese health officials announced an AIDS cooperation program with a U.S. institute, combating what health officials fear will be a tenfold surge in HIV infection in China.

The partnership between the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of Maryland's Institute of Human Virology - founded by one of the co-discoverers of the virus - covers collaboration on clinical trials, technical assistance and development of better and faster tests and vaccines, institute officials said.

The step comes as United Nations health officials warned in June that Asia's AIDS problem could rival sub-Saharan Africa if quick action is not taken to stem new infections.

There are 5.1 million people with the virus in India, second only to South Africa with 5.3 million infections, according to UNAIDS estimates for 2003. About 840,000 people in China have the virus, according to the Chinese Ministry of Health, but the UN has warned that number could grow to 10 million by 2010 if the epidemic is left unchecked.

The Maryland institute, which combines laboratory research, epidemiology and clinical research in an effort to get new discoveries to the neediest, can help the Chinese develop strategies and help teach physicians about diagnosis and management of the disease, among other issues, said Richard Gallo, the institute's founder-director.

Under the pact, Baltimore doctors will train their Chinese counterparts in the care of people with AIDS and China will send researchers to work in the institute's laboratories.

The three-year, $7 million (Ђ5.7 million) effort will be funded in part by the Chinese and U.S. governments, officials said.

One of the institute's central goals will be to help doctors in China find the drug combinations that work best for its population.

Other research will focus on the history of the disease in China and a study of traditional Chinese medicines for possible treatment.

While the Chinese CDC already sends researchers to the institute for training, the new agreement is expected to boost bilateral cooperation and allow American researchers to benefit from China's centuries old medical experience.

"This is more than just missionary work," Gallo was quoted by the AP as saying. "I think we have a real chance of getting help from China."

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