The Ministry of Health announced on Thursday that China's prison population is to be tested for HIV. It will work with the Ministry of Justice to test inmates in prisons and other correctional institutions from this month to March next year.
If an inmate is found to be HIV positive, the health authority will then also test family members, the ministry said, adding that those with HIV/AIDS will receive proper treatment.
In September this year, a man with AIDS was imprisoned in Hubei Province for robbery and stealing. Officially, he was the first known person with AIDS to be sentenced to imprisonment by a Chinese court.
The police are inclined not to detain people with AIDS, and many of them are not given custodial sentences as most prisons and detention houses do not have what they consider to be suitable facilities.
China has a prison population of 1.5 million in its 670 jails, and is officially estimated to have 840,000 HIV positive people, of whom 80,000 have developed AIDS.
China Daily reported on Friday that Heilongjiang Province has witnessed a sharp growth in the number of people with HIV/AIDS over recent years.
The Health Bureau there said that by the end of October, 56 more had been detected in the province, which has a population of nearly 40 million.
Altogether 178 HIV positive people have been registered since the province's first AIDS diagnosis was made in 1993, of whom 20 have died.
A large proportion of these, 104, were diagnosed after 2002. Although the overall incidence in Heilongjiang is still not high, this dramatic increase of over 50 percent does not bode well.
Blood transmission was thought to account for nearly 60 percent of infections, sexual intercourse for 16 percent and intravenous drug use for 6 percent. The method of transmission in the remaining 18 percent is unknown.
"Before 2002, most people diagnosed with AIDS had a history of drug use or of using prostitutes," said Wu Yuhua from the Virus Research Institute of the Heilongjiang's Disease Prevention and Control Center. He added that this is no longer the case.
This year there have been efforts to improve public awareness of HIV/AIDS, and Executive Vice Health Minister Gao Qiang said on Thursday that surveillance will be strengthened so as to curb its spread.
Gao told officials from the UN Theme Group on HIV/AIDS in China that nationwide testing of people who used to sell blood has begun.
In 2003, the government announced that it would offer free anti-retroviral therapy to people with AIDS in rural areas and to those in cities with financial difficulties.
"We hope the free anti-retroviral therapy will soon be expanded to cover all the places of China," said Gao.
(Xinhua, China Daily, November 26, 2004)