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AIDS Rule Could Help Quell Epidemic

National regulation of HIV/AIDS prevention and control management was on the agenda of officials and legislators at their recent national meetings and their focus on the topic will help ensure success in China's unprecedented ambitious fight against the deadly virus, officials say.

"We are thinking about drafting a regulation on comprehensive management of HIV/AIDS control, including epidemic surveillance, management of the disease and the protection of sufferers' rights and interests," said Hao Yang, a disease control division director at the Ministry of Health.

If the State Council approves a draft regulation and it is launched, it will greatly standardize and accelerate the present work of curbing the rapid spread of the virus and treating the sufferers properly, Hao told the China Daily.

Hao has been echoed by NPC deputy Shi Zuolin at the current annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC), who said it is urgent for China to create laws on the control and prevention of HIV/AIDS.

"Otherwise, the country will lose its best opportunity in bringing the deadly disease under control," said Shi, deputy director of the Provincial Hospital in East China's Fujian Province.

China has more than 300 laws, regulations, and documents at various levels that mention HIV/AIDS prevention and control. However, most of them were made at the early stages of the epidemic in the country in 1980s.

They have fallen short of the requirements of the new situation and some regulations conflict with one another, Shi noted.

At the moment, nearly 90 per cent of the officially estimated 840,000 HIV/AIDS sufferers have not been identified, creating a great barrier to preventing the spread of the virus, said Ray Yip, director of the China Office of the Global AIDS Programme, run by the US Centre for Disease Control.

And the majority of these sufferers are in high-risk groups, such as drug users, prostitutes and people who have illegally sold blood.

Meanwhile, the model that charts the spread of the virus has changed a lot. In the next few years, drug use remains high on the list of ways the disease can be spread, but sexual contact will become the main channel for spreading the virus from high-risk groups to the general public.

The major strategy the government needs to prevent secondary transmission from existing carriers to the general population is to intervene in high-risk groups such as prostitutes.

That can be carried out by health workers with the tacit support of the police, but support from laws and regulations are needed, Shi noted.

The same is true when it comes to drug use, since both illicit drug use and prostitution are forbidden by laws in China.

Therefore, prostitutes and drug users do their business secretly and shy away from intervention activities like condom- and clean syringe-dispensing programmes, experts said.

A new law would provide strong support for such intervention activities and other comprehensive control measures for sufferers through defining the duties of the different departments under the State Council and local governments, said Hao.

A new regulation could also help draw attention to protecting the basic human dignity of HIV carriers, such as the right to medical treatment, education and travel, and the right of privacy, Shi noted.

Properly protecting the rights of HIV carriers is a good way of encouraging high-risk people to come out for testing without worrying about discrimination and medical expenses, Yip said.

And to raise the awareness among such people through strengthening publicity, government support is needed, Hao said.

The central government now is paying unprecedented attention to HIV/AIDS control. However, its ambitious plans may face a lot of difficulty in the process of being carried out by local officials, most of whom are still not fully aware of the danger of the disease, said Gao Yaojie, a well-known anti-AIDS activist from Henan Province where more than 11,000 people have been infected with HIV through illegal blood sale.

In this light, a State Council regulation will be very necessary now to supervise the local governments to seriously fulfill their duties of HIV/AIDS control, Hao said.

(China Daily March 15, 2004)

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