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Premier's Handshake Highlights Fight Against AIDS

Wen Jiabao became the first premier in China to shake hands with a HIV/AIDS patients Monday in Beijing, highlighting the central government's determination to fight the increasing epidemic.

He asked governments at various levels to make concerted efforts to conduct better prevention and control work concerning HIV/AIDS, including widening public education on its afflictions, stronger epidemic surveillance, more investment for medical treatment and strengthening international co-operation.

More investment from various levels of governments will be used to provide free treatment for low-level AIDS patients, free HIV testing and support for the education of orphans left behind by victims of the afflictions, Wen said.

Wen and Vice-Premier Wu Yi, who is also the health minister of China, visited Ditan Hospital, a hospital well-known throughout China for dealing with infectious disease cases, and expressed their sympathies to patients there Monday, which was World AIDS Day.

Greater attention from top leaders of the central government and a stronger leading headquarters concerning HIV/AIDS management have been proposed by domestic and overseas experts as the most urgent and effective way for China to tackle the epidemic.

Since last year, the central government has begun investing roughly 122 million yuan (US$15 million) annually in HIV/AIDS prevention and control.

And the total cost from various local governments has reached 200 million yuan (US$24 million) a year, said Hao Yang, a HIV/AIDS division chief of the Ministry of Health.

However, with such an investment, most of which will be used in prevention campaigns, it is hard to provide the necessary medical treatment for patients.

The number of patients being diagnosed with AIDS and the number of HIV positive carriers who are developing into AIDS cases are both on the rise, Hao added.

Experts have estimated that about 70 percent of the country's AIDS patients do not have access to necessary treatment at the moment.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic has not been effectively controlled among the high-risk population and it has started to spread to the general public, according to a joint assessment, issued Monday, about HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care in China.

The current HIV/AIDS epidemic in China overall is considered to have a low national prevalence, while high prevalence clusters continue to increase at a rapid rate.

As well, some regions in China are entering a period where the number of AIDS infections and related deaths are escalating.

Meanwhile, HIV risk factors exist throughout the nation, so there is a good chance for the epidemic to become more widespread. And in areas with high HIV figures, HIV and AIDS have brought about different degrees of social and economic impact.

According to the latest estimates by Chinese health authorities, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS, there are currently 840,000 HIV/AIDS sufferers which includes 80,000 AIDS patients.

If nothing is done to stem HIV prevention, some 10 million Chinese citizens may be infected by 2010, experts have warned.

Data from the national HIV surveillance system indicates that about 45 percent of HIV/AIDS cases are from injecting drug, 31 percent are sex-related and about 24 percent are from infected blood products, said the WHO Monday.

The deadly epidemic has spread to all of China's provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities as of 1999.

(China Daily December 1, 2003)

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