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Female Drug Users Key to Preventing AIDS Spread

Female injection drug users (IDUs) are the key population to preventing the spread of HIV from high-risk populations to the general population in China. Experts discussed the matter at length on Thursday at a symposium on drug abuse and AIDS.

"Female IDUs may be at the highest risk of acquiring HIV and the highest risk of exposing others to HIV in China," said Bessie Lee, deputy director of the US Centers for Disease Control's (CDC's) Global AIDS Program in China.

CDC reports that in 2002 the three main HIV transmission routes in China were injection drug use (68 percent), blood and plasma collection (9.2 percent) and sexual transmission (7.2 percent).

"Female drug users account for 16.7 percent of more than one million reported drug users in China. In some regions, this percentage can even reach 40," said Cheng Feng, China director of Family Health International of the US. "Many of them get money to buy drugs by offering sexual service. It makes this population a very probable bridge between high-risk populations such as drug users to the general population," said Cheng.

According to the China-UK HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care Project, some 51 percent of female IDU sex workers do not normally use condoms.

CDC's Lee said, "HIV transmission routes for female sex workers who use drugs are from them to their male clients, then to low-risk females and then to low-risk males. This is the secondary HIV transmission, which means HIV is transmitted from high-risk populations to the general population. Now China is in the key phase of preventing secondary HIV transmission from spreading. How to realize this goal? The first is to give priority attention to HIV prevention for female IDUs."

She added that the next step was to decrease risk transmission through such means as promoting the use of condoms, and finally to offer anti-virus treatment to IDUs, especially females.

"The Chinese government has begun to take such measures as promoting condom use and providing hypodermic needles in regions with high incidence of AIDS and drug use, such as southwest Yunnan Province. This shows that the government has begun to adopt a positive and practical attitude in the prevention and treatment of AIDS and drug use," said Liu Zhimin, deputy director of the National Institute of Drug Dependence of Beijing University.

China's first HIV case was identified in 1985. The most recent assessment report on AIDS prevention and control released by Ministry of Health indicates that HIV is an epidemic affecting all the mainland's 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities. There are now nearly 900,000 HIV carriers reported in China, 80,000 of whom suffer full-blown AIDS. Some experts warn that over 10 million Chinese will be HIV-positive by 2010 unless effective measures are implemented.

(Xinhua News Agency, China.org.cn, June 25, 2004)

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