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HIV/AIDS epidemic still on rise in China
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China needs to upgrade its anti-AIDS efforts because the epidemic continues to spread mainly through sexual transmission -- from high-risk groups to average people, the country's leading AIDS-control agency warned Friday.

Accumulated number of confirmed HIV/AIDS cases on the Chinese mainland since the mid-1980s reached 295,000 by May, compared with 264,300 by September 2008, according to the National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention, under the Chinese Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

Among them, some 91,500 people infected by HIV have developed into AIDS patients and 43,400 people have already died. More than 52,000 people living with HIV/AIDS are receiving antiretroviral treatment.

"The rise of the HIV/AIDS epidemic has yet to be under effective control. In the past five years, the number of new cases surpassed 40,000 every year," Wu Zunyou, director of the national AIDS center, said Friday.

UNAIDS, the United Nations' anti-AIDS agency, estimated that actual number of HIV/AIDS cases could be more than 700,000 among China's 1.3 billion people, with nearly 57 percent of new cases being caused by unprotected sex.

Wu said the new estimation, conducted by his center, would be released in November.

"HIV transmission through unsafe sex is particularly dangerous to the general public because it's now the leading cause of HIV/AIDS transmission in China, instead of needle sharing among drug users," Wu said.

Gay men and prostitutes run a particularly high risk of contracting the AIDS virus, he said. A study among 18,000 gay men in 61 Chinese cities found the rate of HIV infection was 4.9 percent, much higher than the nation's average 0.05 percent.

"The increase of HIV infections among gay men is faster than that among heterosexual groups in the past three years," he said.

Contrary to common impression that HIV/AIDS is a health issue among young people, more senior citizens are falling a prey to the disease.

A total of 1,713 men older than 60 were infected by HIV in 2008, mainly due to unsafe sex, compared with 483 men of the same age group in 2005.

"Once infected, they are more likely and quickly to develop into AIDS patients because their immune systems are weaker than young people," Wu said.

Despite the expansion of monitoring and testing service networks, health workers also face huge challenges in conducting education among high-risk groups such as gays and prostitutes because it is very difficult to find them, Wu said.

China's HIV/AIDS surveillance network was composed of 1,080 stations that cover 340,000 people by the end of 2008, compared with 431 stations covering 129,000 people in 2005. The number of counselling and testing stations also reached 6,077 in 2008 from 2,850 in 2005.

However, health education was estimated to reach only 14.2 percent of gay men and 43.3 percent of prostitutes, Wu said.

"We need to encourage more people from these groups to stand up and help raise AIDS awareness among their peers," Wu said.

AIDS has become the most deadly infectious disease in China since last year. Among some 45,000 HIV/AIDS cases newly reported in 2008, 9,748 patients already died.

(Xinhua News Agency August 14, 2009)

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