Six government departments have jointly urged the nation's media to encourage the use of condoms, a move to promote safe sex and HIV/AIDS prevention.
The six departments, including the Ministry of Health, the State Population and Family Planning Commission, and the State Food and Drug Administration, have jointly issued rules and recommendations on the extensive use of condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
Free condoms will be distributed through the health and family planning networks, according to the report.
Chinese officials have acknowledged that AIDS is moving from high-risk populations, such as drug users and prostitutes, into the general population through sexual transmission.
Vice-Premier Wu Yi has stressed that China's AIDS prevention and control work is at a crucial stage because the epidemic may spread beyond high-risk groups.
The State Council has urged local governments to ensure a high level of condom use among high-risk groups.
Its five-year HIV/AIDS prevention plan (2001-05) expects that condoms will be used by at least 50 per cent of high-risk populations in China by the end of next year.
Statistics from the Ministry of Health indicate that in China, while 64 per cent of HIV/AIDS cases are caused by drug use, sexual transmission is rising at a double-digit rate.
The authorities have encouraged the installation of automatic condom dispensing machines in communities, especially in areas with a large number of migrants.
Beijing installed 100 condom dispensers across the city earlier this year.
Public awareness of HIV/AIDS remains low among the general public, despite government efforts to disseminate HIV/AIDS related information, health officials said.
Public advertisements on condom use and AIDS prevention should be regularly used to promote condom use among the general population and increase the public's AIDS awareness, officials said.
The State Administration of Industry and Commerce restricted condom advertisements in 1989 as part of a ban outlawing advertisements for products related to sexual activity.
The ban was lifted last year.
With 840,000 HIV carriers reported, of whom 80,000 suffer from AIDS, China is ranked second in Asia and 14th in the world in terms of HIV/AIDS patients.
Some experts warn that over 10 million Chinese will be HIV-positive in 2010, unless effective measures are taken.
(China Daily October 6, 2004)