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Nation's AIDS Action Draws Praise
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China has been commended by top officials attending the XVI International AIDS Conference 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 have mobilized over the last couple of years are very impressive," said Helene Gayle, president of 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 takes 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 infected persons, nearly half of whom caught the virus through unsafe sex. The majority of the other new cases are drug abusers.

Since June 2003, the central government has provided free antiretroviral (ART) treatment 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 have also begun free HIV testing for all people, free education for children of HIV/AIDS-stricken families, and even free condoms, methadone, and clean syringes for high-risk groups, according to an official report by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

"China is a large developing country. 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 infections," Gayle said.

"So China's HIV/AIDS control is very important to the world. It is a very important issue," she said.

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

"I think the big challenge is to make sure there is a uniform action across the country, but China is so big that it takes time," he noted.

He added that beneficiaries of the country's booming economy could do more to help fight the disease.

Since the beginning of the pandemic 25 years ago, nearly 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 gathering 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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