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China Promotes Drug Needle Exchanges to Curb HIV Infections

China will open 300 new drug needle exchange centers by the end of the year amid efforts to curb high rates of HIV infection among intravenous drug users.

At the end of 2005, the country had 91 free needle exchange centers, according to China's Ministry of Health.

About 44.3 percent of the estimated 650,000 Chinese living with HIV/AIDS, or 288,000, were narcotics addicts who shared needles, the ministry said.

The move aims to stop HIV infection being transferred from high-risk drug users to the general population, according to a needle exchange training program held in Wuhan, capital of central Hubei Province.

A needle exchange center in Hanchuan succeeded in cutting the number of junkies who share needles to 13.7 percent this year from 62.8 percent in 2004.

China also plans to open more methadone clinics where a cup of methadone drink will be available - which helps addicts satisfy their thirst for drugs - usually costs just 10 yuan (US$1.26).

Methadone, a synthesized narcotic which is far less noxious than morphine hydrochloride, is widely used internationally as a substitute drug to help addicts kick their addiction.

To curb the rising HIV infection rate nationwide, the Chinese central and local governments more than doubled funds for prevention and treatment to 1.08 billion yuan (US$136.5 million) in 2005 from 490 million yuan (US$61.9 million) in 2003.

According to the United Nations AIDS agency UNAIDS, around 65 million people worldwide have been infected with HIV and AIDS has killed more than 25 million since it was first recognized in 1981.

(Xinhua News Agency September 29, 2006)

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