UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on China's leaders on Monday to step up their fight against AIDS or face an explosive epidemic.
"There is no time to lose if China is to prevent a massive further spread of HIV/AIDS. China is facing a decisive moment," Annan said.
"For the truth is today, China stands on the brink of an explosive AIDS epidemic," he said in remarks prepared for delivery at Zhejiang University, where he was to receive an honorary degree.
According to the latest United Nations estimates, between 800,000 and 1.5 million Chinese were infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, at the end of 2001 and about 30,000 have so far died from the disease.
While most HIV infections in China can be traced to unsafe procedures for paid blood collections or the sharing of tainted needles by intravenous drug abusers, sexually transmitted cases are on the rise, Annan said.
"Clearly, China has everything to gain if it can stem the tide of the AIDS epidemic now and everything to lose if it fails to do so," he said at the start of a four-day visit to China as part of a 10-day tour of Eastern and Central Asia.
He called on the Chinese leadership at all levels to overcome the silence and stigma associated with the disease and "spread the message that AIDS is a problem with a solution".
"Silence is death. People need to know that they can be tested without shame; that if they are infected they will be treated; that if they fall ill, they can live safe from discrimination," he said.
China's response to the threat will determine not only the size of the epidemic but the extent of the destruction it brings, he said, referring to the loss of young, productive workers, the creation of AIDS orphans and the spiralling costs of providing social services and treatment.
"And what happens in China over the next years and decades will also help determine the global impact of the disease," he said.
(China Daily October 14, 2002)