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Checkups for Farmers to Stem HIV Spread

Thousands more people are expected to be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in Henan Province, as officials push to finish their HIV screening process by the end of September for 180,000 farmers who were paid for their blood.

In a bid to make money, people in the province in central China, mostly farmers, sold their blood to illegal blood stations and individuals in the early 1990s.

Tragically, many got more than they bargained for, contracting the deadly HIV virus. The equipment used to take blood was not sterilized.

More than 16,000 people in the province who sold their blood have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

However, this is only the tip of the iceberg, as tens of thousands of people who sold their blood are yet to be screened for the disease.

For example, in the city of Zhumadian in Henan, only 30,000 of the 74,800 people who sold their blood have undergone a HIV test, Vice-Health Minister Wang Longde said Tuesday during a press conference held by the State Council's Information Office.

And the province is not isolated in terms of the dire impact of the illegal blood sales. Many other regions, such as Shanxi, Sichuan and Hubei provinces, have also witnessed pockets of poverty due to the rise of the disease.

Before 1994, there were no requirements for hospitals or official blood stations to screen for the HIV virus, Wang said.

Since the end of the 1990s, much attention has been paid to strengthening the management of donated blood and the construction of official blood stations that screen for diseases.

Now, intravenous drug use is the main channel for the spread of the virus, along with other high-risk groups such as people who sell their blood and prostitutes.

Wang warned the disease was expected to spread from the high-risk groups to other residents in the future through sexual contact, if effective measures - such as making condoms available in entertainment venues - were not taken immediately.

Nationwide, nearly 90 percent China's estimated 840,000 HIV carriers have not been diagnosed by doctors or health officials, experts have warned.

It means one of the priorities for governments at all levels is to find out who actually has the disease, which would assist in stopping it from spreading, said Ray Yip, director of the Beijing Office of the China-US AIDS Prevention and Care Project.

Moreover, the increasing number of AIDS patients is putting more of a strain on governments, which provide them with medical treatment.

Since 2003, the governments have been providing anti-virus medicine for all rural HIV/AIDS sufferers for free. Nearly 80 percent of China's HIV carriers live in rural and remote areas. However, due to the poor medical services and under trained personnel at grassroots levels, many AIDS patients have stopped taking their medicine.

(China Daily June 30, 2004)

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