While a growing number of people in Shanghai are taking voluntary tests to see if they are HIV positive or have AIDS, about a third of newly detected AIDS patients in Shanghai last year only found out they have the disease after undergoing mandatory blood tests after being convicted of drug abuse or engaging in sex trade, according to local health authorities.
HIV-positive prisoners are separated from the general inmates and receive basic treatment for the disease according to authorities, who are pushing for local hotel and entertainment facilities such as KTV bars, to install more condom distributing machines to stop the spread of the AIDS through prostitution.
Most of the HIV-positive prisoners in the city are drug users or involved in the sex trade, health authorities say.
While authorities wouldn't say how many people in Shanghai tested positive for HIV last year, they did say 14.6 percent of those diagnosed with the virus in 2002 took voluntary tests, suggesting increased education efforts are paying off.
The number of people taking voluntary test, however, is still low. The 10 local hospitals that offer HIV testing conduct about five voluntary tests every week, according to the Shanghai Disease Control and Prevention Center. While the number is low, it still shows an increase over just six months ago, when the hospitals conducted fewer than 10 voluntary tests per month.
"Taking the test is not only good for a person but also beneficial to their family members and society," said Kang Laiyi, director of a national center for the Prevention and Control of AIDS.
Kang says local officials have to push for even more programs to educate the public about AIDS.
A hot line (63062125 ext 121) set up last September by Shanghai Infectious Disease Hospital has already played an important role in persuading people to take the test.
"People are now better educated about the disease. Some of them called after having certain symptoms like fever, skin rashes or enlarged lymph nodes. They have strong suspicions but are afraid of going to the hospital for a test," said Sha Xiaoping, a doctor at the hospital.
Callers to the hot line are always told to take the test as soon as possible, so that they can get timely treatment if they test positive, he added.
"Many fear the hospital will inform their family or employer about the test," said Sha, adding that test can be taken anonymously, but anyone testing positive must register with the city's disease prevention and control center.
As of last October, the city had 685 registered HIV or AIDS patients, a number of experts say is far bellow the true infection rate in Shanghai.
(eastday.com February 27, 2003)