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Government Increases Assistance to AIDS-stricken Areas
The Chinese government is increasing helps to AIDS patients with new subsidies from the central budget and locally-produced drugs provided to areas badly hit by the disease, says Health Minister Zhang Wenkang.

The State Council has approved a special fund of 22 million yuan (about US$2.7 million) per year in the 2002-2004 period for medical treatment of AIDS patients in seriously-stricken areas, Zhang said in Beijing on Thursday.

Zhang also said many patients would be able to use locally-produced anti-AIDS drugs as early as January next year when the medicines would be produced in batches.

"Domestic production of four kinds of anti-AIDS drugs has been achieved so far," he told a meeting of China's highest legislators to review the health ministry's report on the reform of health care systems.

What he implied was more AIDS patients might be able to foot the bill since the price of homemade drugs would be only one-tenth of that of imported ones, which currently cost 30,000 yuan (US$3,600) for one person per year in China. Few of the over one million Chinese infected by HIV, the AIDS virus, can afford the antiretroviral combination therapy.

Zhang said that the HIV/AIDS epidemic has gradually appeared to threaten social stability and economic development in a few seriously-stricken areas.

The spread of HIV/AIDS through illegal blood plasma collection around 1995, mainly for the production of biomedical products, had affected 23 Chinese provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, Zhang said. The provinces of Henan, Anhui, Hebei and Hubei in central China were suffering the most serious consequences.

In some villages, 10 to 20 percent, even as high as 60 percent of plasma sellers, have been infected by the AIDS virus because of unhygienic practices during the collections.

But Zhang stressed that the government had taken effective measures to block HIV transmission, such as banning the illegal plasma trade and adding standard blood banks for donors.

China invested 2.25 billion yuan (US$272 million) last year to establish or upgrade 459 blood banks in the central and western regions.

The health minister told the legislators that the fight against HIV/AIDS could be a "long-term, arduous and complicated task."

At the bimonthly meeting of the National People Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, Zhang also addressed the need to further reform the health care systems in rural and urban areas.

General health condition of farmers, who account for more than half of nearly 1.3 billion Chinese, had barely improved in recent years, he said.

"The gap between the urban and rural residents in terms of health care is widening," he said.

An old cooperative health-care system founded under the planned economy had greatly improved the health of Chinese farmers in past decades. But it fell into disrepair when the market economy swept the countryside.

Governments at various levels are required to set up rural health-care cooperatives by staffing them with qualified personnel and facilities. Central and local governments will pay health-care subsidies to help farmers join the system.

Apart from publicly-owned health care institutions, private clinics would be encouraged to provide quality services to rural residents, Zhang said.

(Xinhua News Agency December 27, 2002)

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