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Yunnan on Front Line in War on AIDS

In recent years Yunnan Province has intensified its efforts to combat AIDS as the deadly disease has become more widespread in this southwestern province and its neighboring nations.

"Facing the serious threat from the swift spreading of AIDS in the province, the Yunnan Bureau of the State Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine has attached utmost importance to the prevention and control of the disease," said bureau director Cheng Dilong.

To expedite detection and prevent the disease from spreading, the bureau has established an AIDS monitoring network and a special prevention and control team.

Despite a funding shortage, the bureau invested more than US$120,000 in 2001 in the building of a HIV antibody confirmation laboratory, which has played an important role in the province-wide monitoring and examination work, according to Cheng.

"The provincial bureau has made increasing efforts in checking up on AIDS cases," said Cheng.

To prevent AIDS from being transmitted in and out of China, the Yunnan provincial inspection and quarantine authorities have focused particular attention upon strengthening AIDS examinations.

"The number of the AIDS cases found by the provincial bureau every year takes up about 50 percent of that found by the country's all exit-entry inspection and quarantine departments," Cheng said.

In addition, Yunnan Province has strengthened AIDS awareness and education province-wide, especially among high-risk groups.

These efforts have achieved good effects in helping people steer clear of the deadly disease.

"However, the Yunnan provincial government and its local inspection and quarantine departments are also facing a severe challenge in curbing AIDS proliferation and preventing the epidemic transmitting from abroad into the province and beyond," said Shao Qiwei, deputy governor of Yunnan Province.

Yunnan Province borders Myanmar, Viet Nam, and Laos, the three southeast Asian countries where the AIDS epidemic has rapidly increased in recent years and is now rapidly spreading.

The province is also contiguous to the Golden Triangle, notorious for being one of the world's largest drug production and trafficking bases.

The province has a total of 27 border cities and more than 90 passages which can provide convenient accesses to southeast Asian countries.

"As China's most convenient land corridor to southeast Asia since ancient times, Yunnan Province's proximity to southeast Asia, its unblocked language communications, relatively free non-governmental exchanges and similar customs with the region make the province's work of stopping various epidemics entering China very difficult," Shao said.

Its special geographic situation dictates that it unavoidably faces the negative influences and threat from the rampancy of AIDS in southeast Asian countries.

"It is known that southeast Asia is one of the world's most AIDS-stricken areas, thus, it is one of Yunnan Province's major tasks to prevent AIDS transmitting from the region into China through its border cities," said Cheng.

"The task is of great significance upon the health and safety of the people in Yunnan and the country as a whole," the official said.

In recent years, the growth of AIDS cases in Asia is faster than that in Africa, ranking it the world's second largest AIDS-stricken area.

According to statistics, there are now about 7.2 million HIV carriers and AIDS patients in Asia -- up 10 percent from the previous year.

In 2002 alone, about 970,000 new AIDS cases were found in Asia and about 470,000 patients died of the disease, making Asia one of the world's fastest growth regions.

Without effective control means, it is very possible that Asia will surpass the Sub-Sahara Africa in AIDS infection in the near future.

There is no reason for Yunnan to be overly optimistic in preventing and controlling AIDS given its proximity to seven of the 10 most AIDS-infected Asian nations, Cheng said.

Concerned about the severe anti-AIDS prospect, the officials said the province will continue strengthening detection of epidemics, especially AIDS, setting up a more effective epidemic detecting system and collecting information on international epidemics in a timely manner.

At the same time, the provincial government and its inspection and quarantine authority will continue actively carrying out cooperation with their counterparts in neighboring countries, to coordinate their work in border cities.

Currently, Yunnan Province is making efforts to sign a sanitary and quarantine agreement, especially on the control of AIDS and venereal diseases, with Myanmar and other neighboring nations, to erect a protective screen against outside epidemics along its frontier.

(China Daily January 19, 2004)

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