China's worst-hit AIDS province, Henan, initiated on July 26 a survey of medical stations that purchased blood in an effort to discover the true extent of the epidemic. The first phase of the survey was completed on August 31.
The survey is intended to clarify how many people in the province are currently suffering from AIDS, how many are HIV-positive and how many people donated blood for money before 1995, said Ma Jianzhong, director of the Henan Health Bureau at a press conference last Friday.
Some 280,000 people in the central China province, mostly farmers, sold their blood, many of them to illegal blood stations and individuals. Because the blood collection stations often ignored sterile procedures, many of these people contracted the deadly HIV virus.
The number of known HIV/AIDS cases in Henan is 25,036. Among those infected, more than 97 percent come from rural areas. More than 11,800 have already shown symptoms of full-blown AIDS, Ma said.
More than 500,000 officials and medical specialists have formed 53 working groups to conduct the survey, which is believed to be the largest of its kind in the world, Ma said. More than one million people at all levels are reportedly working on the project.
Three methods are used to determine who sold blood and whether they were infected with the virus. First, the authorities encourage anyone who sold blood to go to a hospital or clinic to be tested. Second, citizens are encouraged to report any relatives, friends or neighbors who they believe have sold blood. Third, records are checked at the blood collection stations.
Because many migrant workers were not physically located in the province during the first phase, the survey will be continued during the autumn harvest period and at Spring Festival.
The growing number of AIDS patients is putting an increasing strain on local governments that provide them with medical treatment.
Since 2003, local governments have been providing free medication for all rural HIV/AIDS sufferers. Nearly 80 percent of China's HIV carriers live in rural and remote areas.
However, due to the poor medical services and under-trained personnel at grass-roots levels, many AIDS patients stop taking the medicine, which has allowed the disease to progress.
(China Daily, Xinhua News Agency September 13, 2004)