China needs a national headquarters with real power, modelled on the SARS campaign, to co-ordinate the fight against HIV/AIDS, a top health official said yesterday.
Zeng Yi, a senior HIV/AIDS expert from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told China Daily that the State Council needed to establish an authoritative headquarters to lead HIV/AIDS prevention and control work across the country.
Such headquarters, similar to the one set up during the recent SARS epidemic, would not only mobilize the support of local governments at various levels but improve epidemic surveillance and public awareness, Zeng said.
At present, a committee exists under the State Council to co-ordinate various departments and lead the country's war against HIV/AIDS.
However, the committee should be given more authority and power to engage local governments, various departments and residents in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
"We should tell our people the true situation and take effective measures. We should try our best to find all the HIV carriers and AIDS patients and give them care and support," Zeng said.
China is estimated to have 840,000 HIV carriers, including 80,000 AIDS patients, Gao Qiang, China's executive deputy minister of health, said recently.
However, the official number of HIV/AIDS cases reported by health institutes to the Ministry of Health is only about 45,000.
That means there are nearly 800,000 unidentified HIV carriers and AIDS patients, many continuing their high-risk activities without taking precautions, said Professor Jing Jun.
Jing, from Tsinghua University, was attending an AIDS and SARS symposium held on campus yesterday.
China still has a window of opportunity, that may disappear in two or three years, to prevent the deadly epidemic, said Ray Yip, an official from the Global AIDS Program in China of the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The epidemic is mostly confined to high-risk groups and has yet to spread widely in the rest of the community.
However, the government must promise care and protection to those at high risk of the disease or they will not come forward for health checks, Yip said.
Gao Qiang promised in September at a special United Nations conference on HIV/AIDS to strengthen the responsibility of governments and carry comprehensive care projects in 124 HIV-stricken counties.
Officials who make mistakes in HIV/AIDS prevention and control will be punished, just like they were in the war against SARS, Gao said.
China has made great efforts and progress in fighting against HIV/AIDS over the past years. However, stronger leadership and support from the highest level of the government is needed, said David Ho, a leading AIDS researcher with the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at Rockefeller University in New York.
Ho, the inventor of the "cocktails" treatment for AIDS patients, made the remarks at the Tsinghua forum.
Former US President Bill Clinton echoed Ho's call at the summit, comparing the 800 deaths from the SARS outbreak to the 25 million who have died of AIDS so far. He said SARS was a wake-up call due to its strong negative impact on the economy.
(China Daily November 11, 2003)