AIDS epidemic in China

The Chinese authorities are coming to terms with the fact that AIDS exists in the country and are beginning to admit the enormity of the problem.

The Chinese Health authorities admit that there are 600,000 AIDS cases in the country, while independent sources claim that the number is nearer to 6 million. The United Nations Organisation has declared that if “drastic measures” are not taken, there will be 10 million cases by 2010.

At the country’s first National AIDS Conference, Zhang Wenkang, the Chinese Public Health Minister stated that “The propagation rate of the disease is extremely serious”. In the first half of 2001, the number of Chinese citizens with AIDS increased by 67.4% over the previous year.

UNAIDS executive director Peter Piet declared that “Sweeping the disease under the carpet will not help to contain it”. He added that although China was now admitting that it had a problem with AIDS, there is still much to do. “What happens during the next two decades will determine the global burden imposed by AIDS”.

The main problem, as always, is ignorance among the population as to how AIDS is contracted and this runs through the medical profession also in China. There is also serious discrimination against AIDS patients.

Until recently, AIDS was called a “foreigners’ disease” in China and the best preventive measure forwarded by the authorities was sexual abstinence. In 1993, the Chinese National Public Health Institute declared that “The condom is safe, but chastity is better”. At that time, two-thirds of the 1,200 registered cases in the country were registered among the intravenous drug users, the incidence of the other third being among the Chinese community resident abroad.

Unprotected relations between homosexuals is still not approached as a possible form of infection, because homosexuality is not openly spoken about in China. Until April, 2001, it was officially considered as a “mental disease”.

Illegal selling and collection of blood in rural areas is another potential source, as are medications based on these blood products.

In countries with a recent experience in facing the threat openly and combating it, education is seen as the key issue to containing AIDS. In many European countries, clean syringes are distributed gratuitously to intravenous drug users, who are encouraged to enter a rehabilitation programme. Heroin users are given Methadone, a substitute, during the weaning off phase.

However, there continue to be many cases of people who are infected without knowing they are HIV positive. This is not infrequent among women, whose husbands have slept with prostitutes, or non-prostitutes, and who do not know they have contracted the disease before they infect their wives.

While it is true that the risk of a woman becoming HIV positive after sexual relations with a man are three times higher than a man being infected by a woman, and while unprotected sex with an HIV positive person does not automatically guarantee infection, the risks are greatly increased.


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Author`s name Editorial Team