With 320 million people under 25 translating as 20 percent of the world's youth and a campus population topping 15 million, China is fighting to ensure full awareness of AIDS exists as well as how to best oppose the killer virus.
UNICEF has stated that in order to enjoy maximum protection and awareness of the disease, young people must have a support network of peers, teachers, parents and communities enabling them to learn the facts, prevent HIV infection and refrain from discrimination against those that are afflicted.
In 2005, China reported 135,630 cases of HIV infections, with 31,143 developing into AIDS cases, according to Vice Health Minister Wang Longde. His estimates placed at 23 percent the amount of cases related to unprotected sex.
Global research has stated that 70 percent of HIV/AIDS infections result from unprotected sex, with over half of those infected ranging between 14 and 25 years old.
As China's long-held ideas and opinions about sex change with the times, sexually active students are at a much greater risk from AIDS.
Limited awareness of the disease remains a constant threat with recent poll by the China Children's Press and Publication Group finding that a quarter of 4,000 students questioned viewed AIDS as a distant threat and that close to 20 percent did not fully understand the danger of sharing needles.
Dr. Yin Yin Nwe, resident representative of UNICEF revealed that "since the first cases of AIDS were discovered in China in 1985, the Chinese government has responded to the epidemic with increasing aggression. In the past year alone the government has made major strides in promoting HIV/AIDS education, treatment and control policies."
"Despite the great efforts of the Chinese government, many Chinese young people still need to increase HIV/AIDS awareness, especially in terms of prevention," said Nwe.
A UNICEF survey among over 2,000 middle school students in a major city in 2006 shed light on the fact that an alarming 40 percent of them used no protection measures when first having sex.
A survey of 825 college students from Hunan Province, conducted by Central South University's AIDS laboratory in 2005, tracked the emergence of less-traditional viewpoints: over 50 percent of students approved of pre-marital sex, over 30 percent had experienced or would be amenable to experiencing several sex partners, with 16.9 percent approving of prostitution and 10 percent seeing no harm in homosexuality.
Hou Xin, deputy director of the Social Work Department under the China Youth College for Political Sciences, said that sex was a basic human need and that thus suppressing these urges was not beneficial. However, she added that AIDS-prevention programs should focus on traditional values and morality, including discouraging although not clamping down on pre-marital sex.
A survey, The Knowledge and Attitude Toward AIDS of College Students in Beijing 2006, which investigated about 1200 volunteers and was released at the second session of the Seminar on the Youth and AIDS on June 2 this year, exposed the true landscape of AIDS awareness among young people in Beijing.
Over 92 percent saw AIDS or HIV as a great threat with 82 percent being aware that no vaccine had so far been developed. Unfortunately, 31.7 percent did not differentiate between HIV-infected persons and AIDS patients. 42.7 percent were also unaware that the HIV virus will escape detection for a month after infection.
The ratio of misunderstanding and discrimination also remains worryingly high. Over 41.4 percent of respondents felt that insect bites would spread the disease and 21.4 percent of students polled saw public bathrooms and swimming pools as the most obvious locations from which the virus could be contracted.
The outlook also remained bleak for current HIV/AIDS sufferers with 23 percent expressing their strong unwillingness to share living quarters with patients and with 44 percent remaining silent on the subject.
The survey's organizer Zhou Xiaochun interpreted these finds as showing that understanding of AIDS and HIV in society still has a long way to go.
Since 2003, special classes have been held for college students in Beijing in October every year. When returning to their own schools, they themselves trained other volunteers to help spread the flow of information to their classmates, teachers, relatives, friends and so forth.
The future generations, led by the current college students, must take the lead in fighting back against HIV/AIDS and do their best to consign the virus to the pages of history.
As the theme for World AIDS Day in 1992 "A Community Commitment" explains, AIDS protection is the obligation and responsibility of every single human being and represents a common challenge for the planet.
(China.org.cn by Wang Ke, June 5, 2007)