Since the first AIDS patient was diagnosed in 1981, the spread of the disease has been rampant, becoming not only a public health hazard but also a social problem. In the 1990s, the number of HIV carriers and AIDS patients in China increased rapidly because of infected blood supplies, drug abuse and unsafe sex.
More than 10 million people became infected with the Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus (HIV), a virus that causes AIDS, in China in 2000, according to official statistics. The plague has swept the entire country at an unpredictable speed. Hence, fight against AIDS brooks no delay, warned Sun Boqiu and Chen Junshi, members of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), during the annual CPPCC session in March.
Doctors have established several ways in which HIV is spread, including through sexual intercourse, blood transfusions and maternal to fetal transmission. At present, the greatest threat comes from sexual intercourse and contaminated blood transfusions.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Health, those infected with HIV in southwest and northwest China are primarily drug users, while those in central China are mainly among the floating population and paid blood suppliers.
In 1996 Chinese police arrested 420,000 prostitutes and their clients, but they estimated that the figure was only one-tenth of the actual total involved. Prostitutes have greater risks of both contracting and transmitting HIV because they are more vulnerable to STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) and often do not get treatment. Nationwide statistics show that HIV infection is becoming a serious problem among people who have multiple sex partners.
As the HIV virus scythes through the work force, threatening the economy and causing social havoc, AIDS is sure to be the top public enemy of mankind. China is no exception in the global battle against AIDS. To prevent and control its spread is a matter that concerns the future of the nation, said the two CPPCC members in their proposals to the session.
As the world's most populous country, China fully understands its arduous task and responsibility in controlling the AIDS epidemic and preventing the spread of the disease, and this is now part of national economic and social development plans.
AIDS and HIV infection has resulted in a huge economic loss. The average consulting and hospitalization expenses of a patient amount to 6,971 and 47,577 yuan per annum respectively. Each patient needs 300,000 to 350,000 yuan every year to buy the basic materials needed to treat AIDS. If the patient numbers continue to rise at the present rate, by 2010, the annual cost of the drugs needed to treat the disease will reach 7,700 billion yuan.
As no cure is available currently, prevention is the only effective way. China should step up its campaign to curtail the spread of HIV/AIDS, they said and put forward following proposals:
First, it is self-evident that mankind will never win the battle against AIDS without stronger commitment from governments, giving funding in particular, and active participation from all members of society.
Second, before a cure can be found, education and prevention should top the agenda in our efforts to fight the epidemic.
Sufficient public information about how the virus is transmitted should be provided to raise awareness of the disease, as ignorance has been a key factor in its spread.
The misunderstanding that AIDS only affects people on the fringes of society should be removed as quickly as possible. A nationwide education and publicity campaign warning against HIV and AIDS should be kept up as long as the disease exists. Its spread is now threatening a growing number of people through blood donation.
The State Development Planning Commission has decided to invest 950 million yuan (US$114 million) in the establishment of blood donation and supply stations in central and western China in order to ensure everyone has access to safe blood.
Third, public security departments should carry out stricter policies to fight prostitution, narcotics use and illegal trafficking and sale of blood. The ministry has plans to promote condom use to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and other STDs. The problem of prostitution must be tackled to halt the rising incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Fourth, a more tolerant social atmosphere should be cultivated for AIDS patients to give them earlier treatment. At the same time they should be educated to be responsible and stop the virus from spreading.
Learning from successful overseas experiences will help as part of an effort to prevent high-risk groups in the country from spreading AIDS, they said.
The battle is far from over while an effective vaccine and cure remains elusive.