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AIDS Prevention Targets 200 Million Youths
China is taking more proactive measures to protect the younger generation from AIDS as more than 60 per cent of the nation's HIV/AIDS victims are aged between 15 and 29.

Hao Yang, a division director from the Ministry of Health's Disease Control Department, said one of the main measures being taken is strengthening health education for young people.

More than 40,000 HIV/AIDS victims had been officially reported to the Ministry of Health from all 31 provinces, regions and municipalities on the mainland by the end of last year.

However, government experts estimated the cumulative number of the sufferers in China could have topped 1 million as of the end of last year. The annual rate of increase has been around 30 per cent in the past few years.

The number may reach 10 million by 2010 if the situation is not immediately taken under control, warned Zeng Yi, an expert from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

Unsafe sexual activity is the main way that the young people have been infected with the HIV virus, Hao noted. Other ways include drug abuse and the unsafe blood transfusion that took place in the early 1990s when the illegal buying and selling of blood was rampant, experts noted.

Young people are becoming more susceptible to HIV and AIDS because they are becoming more sexually active and at a much earlier age, said Liu Liqing, the China representative of Marie Stopes International.

Marie Stopes China is a non-profit socially oriented organization working in China to deliver sexual and reproductive health care and education.

Liu's office has done a lot of work in raising young people's awareness of HIV and AIDS, preventing the diseases from taking hold among young migrants and helping young HIV/AIDS sufferers.

About 1 billion people worldwide are aged between 15 and 24, the highest number ever. Young people now make up one of the highest proportions ever of the population as a whole. In China, there are more than 200 million young people between those ages.

Half of all new HIV infections in the world are contracted by people under the age of 25.

In China, where there is a wider gap between puberty and marriage, sexual activity outside marriage has increased and this has increased young people's vulnerability to HIV and AIDS, Liu said.

As a developing country with a comparatively low level of public education, information and services for preventing and treating HIV and AIDS often fail to reach the majority of young people, especially those in rural areas, where about 900 million people of all ages live.

More young people from rural areas, who usually have a low level of education or even none at all, have joined the ranks of migrant labourers moving to urban areas to find work.

It is quite difficult for the health authorities to carry out preventive and control measures against HIV/AIDS among people whose economic situation is poor and who are perpetually on the move, according to the representative.

As well as strengthening education, stress should be put on the legal system to combat drug abuse and the like, Zhang Weiqing -- minister of the State Family Planning and Population Commission -- said yesterday.

According to China's Law on Population and Family Planning, schools and universities should strengthen sex education in a "proper way."

As of June this year, about 50 per cent of primary schools and more than 80 per cent of junior and senior high schools in China had started sex education courses, Zhang said.

The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education have decided to make sure that each school pupil gets at least two hours of sex education every term, Hao said.

(China Daily July 11, 2003)

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