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Six-year China-UK AIDS Prevention Program Ends
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Over the six-year period of a Sino-British AIDS prevention program at least 4,500 AIDS sufferers and those with HIV have been treated and it has helped prevent an estimated 130,000 people from contracting the illnesses in southwest China.

The program, which ended Tuesday, offered training and advice on the use of protective measures to people susceptible to contracting sexually transmitted diseases including drug addicts and sex workers in the provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan.

Approximately 1.28 million disposable syringes were distributed in the 19.9 million UK pound program and 1.14 million used needles were collected for safe disposal to assist prevent the spread of AIDS among intravenous drug users.

The program involved government agencies, non-governmental organizations as well as communities in protecting high-risk people from HIV infection and AIDS, said Ole Hansen, an official at the UNAIDS China Office. Hansen said the program's success in China would provide valuable assistance to other countries in their AIDS prevention work at grassroots and community levels.

The Chinese Ministry of Commerce and the British Department for International Development set up the AIDS prevention and treatment cooperation program in 2000. It was carried out in 83 counties in 37 cities across Sichuan and Yunnan.

The Sino-British program provided medication and counseling to 4,531 AIDS patients and HIV sufferers in the two provinces, said the Chinese Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Thanks to its intervention about 80 percent of the intravenous drug users in Sichuan Province and 86 percent of those in Yunnan no longer share syringes. Half of them were sharing in 2002, according to figures provided by the Center.

Program volunteers have also taught sex workers to use condoms to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases. Seventy percent of female sex workers in Yunnan Province and 53 percent of those in Sichuan have followed the advice of the volunteers, the Center said.

The initiative has also helped dispel fear and discrimination of AIDS and HIV carriers in Zizhong, a hinterland county of 1.32 million people in Sichuan. In total 109 people in Zizhong were infected after selling blood to illegal dealers in 1995. The locals, unaware of how the disease was spread, avoided going near people who were infected.

"Young men in the village would always light a cigarette at the very sight of me," said Li Bencai, a 37-year-old local HIV carrier, "only to observe which way the wind was blowing so they could avoid being down wind of me."

The isolation doubled his agony. Li said he had given up hope until program volunteers came in 2001. "They told me to stop agonizing and do something to promote AIDS prevention knowledge among the villagers." Today Li runs a teahouse and a lumber plant in his hometown.

The program has been successful thanks to the support of local governments, volunteers and local health workers, said Adrian Davis, from Britain's Department for International Development (DFID) in China. The DFID was expected to spend an additional 30 million UK pounds over the next five years on new AIDS prevention programs in China, he said without elaborating.

The Chinese Ministry of Health estimated in 2005 that the country had approximately 650,000 HIV/AIDS cases which included 75,000 AIDS patients.

Among China's drug addicts 288,000 were found to be infected with AIDS, said Zeng Yi, chief scientist with the STD (sexually-transmitted diseases) and AIDS Prevention Center under the Ministry of Health.

Yunnan, which borders southeast Asia's Golden Triangle, had 40,157 cases of HIV infection at the end of 2005.Sichuan reported a total of 7,646 cases by June this year.

(Xinhua News Agency October 12, 2006)

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