China launches AIDS education for migrants

China marked World AIDS day on Thursday by launching a campaign to educate the country's 120 million migrant workers about condom, while warning that drug users were now the main transmitters of the HIV virus. The government's five-year migrant worker anti-AIDS campaign encourages condom use and discourages drug use, which is reportedly on the rise.

Some 120 million migrant workers move around China in search of jobs in big cities, often spending years away from home. Chinese Central Television showed health authorities at a construction site in Beijing giving condoms out to migrant workers. The men were shown an educational video and asked to fill out a health survey, the television report said.

"Because of this publicity, I really feel I learned something about the harm of AIDS and I will share what I learned with my co-workers, friends and relatives," said Li Hongjian, wearing a hard hat and a large red ribbon pinned to his chest.

The official China Daily newspaper said people who contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, by sharing infected needles now account for 40 percent of the country's total infections.

The paper said sales of unclean blood accounted for 23 percent of AIDS infections, while transmissions through unprotected sex was about 9 percent. The source of the remaining 28 percent was not clear, the paper said.

HIV infection rates among prostitutes have risen from two per 10,000 in 1996 to 93 per 10,000 in 2004, the China Daily said. Illegal drug use and prostitution was all but wiped out under communist China's founding leader Mao Zedong, but has made a comeback during the past three decades as the country opened its economy to the outside world and introduced wide-ranging social reforms.

While all of China's 31 provinces and regions have reported AIDS/HIV cases, 77 percent of the infections are in just five regions. Among them are the southern provinces of Yunnan, Guangxi and Guangdong, which lie close to the "Golden Triangle," one of the world's largest heroin-producing regions.

Police say heroin shipments from Southeast Asia into China are growing, both for sale in economically booming China and for export to other markets. The other two highly affected areas are the western Xinjiang region, where drug use is widespread, and in central Henan, where unclean blood-buying businesses passed the virus to thousands of people in the 1990s.

HIV gained an foothold in China largely due to unsanitary blood plasma-buying schemes and tainted transfusions in hospitals. Cases of transfusions using infected blood have fallen sharply since the 1990s. The government has banned the practice of buying blood, and has forbidden donations by prostitutes, intravenous drug users and others in high HIV risk groups.

China has registered 135,630 people who carry the HIV virus and 31,143 people who have full-blown AIDS, the China Daily said. But the government estimates the true number of sufferers is much higher, with about 840,000 people infected with HIV and 80,000 with full-blown AIDS, reports the AP. I.L.

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