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Milestone AIDS Statute Introduced

The nation's first provincial regulation on AIDS prevention and research takes effect today in the southwestern province of Yunnan, where the greatest number of Chinese infections have been found.

The province, bordering one of the world's major drug production sources--the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia--vowed to invest 520 million yuan (US$63 million) over the next five to ten years to curb the rapid spread of AIDS. The sharing of contaminated syringes by drug users is one of the primary ways the disease has been spreading.

The regulation requires the offering of methadone treatment and access to free unused syringes in designated communities. This is also seen as a significant breakthrough in the province's fight against drugs, said Cui Zhitao, the provincial government's spokesman.

The regulation also states that AIDS-affected families will receive condoms for free and that condom vending machines will be installed at public entertainment and densely populated places, such as hotels, bus and railway stations, ports, tourism spots and construction sites.

"It cannot be inferred that the provincial government has adopted a tolerant attitude toward drug abuse and prostitution," said Cui, adding the above measures are aimed at curbing the spread of AIDS in a pragmatic way.

The regulation also prohibits doctors and health care institutions from releasing the personal information of AIDS patients.

There were nearly 15,000 HIV carriers in Yunnan at the end of last year.

The figure has grown dramatically since 1989, when the first batch of 149 HIV carriers on the Chinese mainland was found in the province's Dehong region.

A total of 558 of Yunnan's 907 AIDS patients had died by the end of last year. The figure accounts for more than one-quarter of all AIDS deaths in China.

Cui said the infection rate has climbed quickly among high-risk groups in Yunnan. About 20 percent of drug users who inject have HIV/AIDS, while the average infection rate is 2.5 percent among sex workers.

Cui said six major projects are planned for the next five to ten years in order to check the rampant spread of AIDS in the province, where 121 counties and cities have HIV/AIDS sufferers.

Additionally, the provincial government will increase efforts to build AIDS care centers, publicize AIDS prevention material, tackle key research projects on AIDS prevention and treatment, and clean up the social environment by fighting against drug abuse and prostitution.

The construction of care centers has already begun with the opening of the first special institute providing patients with AIDS consultation, prevention, testing and treatment in December.

All of the centers are expected to provide treatment to a large number of HIV/AIDS sufferers, who cannot be cared for at ordinary hospitals.

Chen Juemin, spokesman for Yunnan's Health Department, said methadone treatment programs had been implemented in seven counties and cities by the end of last year. By 2009, they will expand to cover 22 areas where many HIV carriers were infected through blood transmissions.

Methadone is a substitute narcotic used in the treatment of heroin addiction.

(China Daily March 1, 2004)

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