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China's Action on AIDS Attracts Praise
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Top officials attending the XVI International AIDS Conference, which opened yesterday in Toronto, Canada, have commended China for the country's strong political commitment and action in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

"The Chinese government and the people of the country have, in a short period of time, demonstrated a real commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS and the resources that they've mobilized over the last couple of years are very impressive," said Helene Gayle, president of the International AIDS Society.

Gayle, also co-chair of the conference themed "Time to Deliver," said that compared with many countries where the mobilization of resources took a long time, China has done a good job.

China reported its first case in 1985 and now has an estimated 650,000 sufferers including 75,000 AIDS patients. In 2005 there were 70,000 new cases, nearly half of whom had caught the virus through unsafe sex. The majority of other new cases were drug users.

Since June 2003 the central government has provided free antiretroviral therapy (ART) in heavily affected counties. By the end of March 2005 more than 23,000 patients had started ART in 605 counties/districts of 28 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities.

As well as providing free medicines for patients, since 2003 governments at various levels also offered free HIV testing for everyone, free education for children of HIV/AIDS-stricken families, even free condoms, methadone and clean syringes for high-risk groups, according to an official report by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"China is a large developing country," Gayle said. "Even though the infection rates are comparatively low now, given China's overall population is the largest in the world, even a small increase in new HIV infections will have a huge impact on the global total of new cases. So China's HIV/AIDS control is very important to the world. It's a very important issue," she said.

In the eyes of Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, China still faces challenges in the battle against the disease. He said that in some provinces, such as Henan, officials have become very aware of the dangers of the disease and taken positive action. But some other provinces have not yet woken up to the problem or there still remain reluctance, stigma and discrimination.

"I think the big challenge is to make sure there is uniformed action across the country but China is so big that it takes time," he noted. The beneficiaries of the country's booming economy can do more to help fight the disease, he suggested. 

Since the beginning of the world pandemic 25 years ago almost 65 million people have been infected with HIV, and AIDS has killed more than 25 million people.

A record 24,000 participants are expected to attend the conference including political, scientific and community leaders, and many others on the front line of the epidemic.

The conference includes more than 400 sessions, meetings and workshops featuring important scientific advances and discussion of current policy issues. Over 4,500 scientific abstracts on trends and new discoveries will be presented.

(China Daily August 14, 2006)

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