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How Will China Fight HIV/AIDS?
Over 100 AIDS experts, foreign embassy officials in China, and representatives from various international organizations recently gathered in Beijing to discuss how to control AIDS in China.

The rapid spread and high cost of treating AIDS endangers the lives of many, mainly young and middle-aged people, placing a heavy burden on the social and economic development of a country.

AIDS is the only illness which the UN has held Special Assembly sessions for, and which the UN General Secretary has advanced discussions on in UNSC. It is also the only illness for which the World Health Organization has set up a dedicate institution to deal with problems the disease poses to development in the new century.

Although some medicines have been developed which can reduce levels of HIV in the body, the prohibitive cost of such treatments prevent their wide spread use, especially in developing countries where they are most needed.

In China, for example, the number of reported HIV carriers had risen to 30,736 by 2001. Calculating the cost of treatment, on the basis of between 110,000 yuan (US$13,274) to 130,000 yuan (US$15,688) per person, the total annual cost to the Chinese government would be somewhere in the region of 4 billion yuan (US$482.7 million). But some experts estimate that the real rate of infection may be as high as 850,000 by the end of last year, pushing costs up to 109.2 billion yuan (US$13.178 billion).

Vice Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation Long Yongtu said, “AIDS is not only a health problem, but also an issue that seriously affects economic, social and cultural development, and therefore demands the highest level of attention from all sectors in society.”

The Chinese has raised its annual fund for AIDS prevention from 15 million yuan (US$1.81 million) to 100 million yuan (about US$12 million), and issued 1.25 billion yuan (US$151 million) in treasury bonds to build and restore 459 blood banks, but even these measures may still not be enough to satisfy the needs of the country.

More examination posts need to be built, especially in remote regions, to monitor the true situation of the AIDS epidemic. The government must apportion more funds to improve blood-screening procedures to prevent the spread of HIV through blood transfusions, and reduce the costs of treatments that are currently deterring poor patients from seeking medical assistance.

There are a mere 200 patients who can presently afford the cost of AIDS treatments, and the country can only provide assistance for just several thousands of its people.

The average person, especially in rural areas, lacks even the most basic awareness of the disease, with drug addicts, prostitutes and gays groups experiencing highest rates of infection. Some 20 to 30 percent intravenous drug-users are suspected of carrying HIV. China needs to launch educational campaigns to raise the public’s awareness of the virus.

Siri Tellier, deputy head of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), recounted the experiences of other countries at the conference. She said, “Promoting public awareness of the disease through AIDS information campaigns is an effective and efficient way to prevent and control the spread of the virus. Uganda, in African, suffered heavily from AIDS with the average life expectancy falling by 5 years in 1990. After targeted educational campaigns, the life expectancy of the average Ugandan has been on the rise since 1995, according to her.

(china.org.cn by Feng Yikun, September 24, 2002)

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