An HIV-infected man who quietly shared his early feelings of isolation and despair to an audience of 2,000 at China's first national AIDS conference in Beijing received thunderous applause for his courage and candor.
Tuesday's opening ceremony of the four-day China AIDS & STD Conference, featuring the guest speaker who wore dark glasses and stood in a dimly lit part of the stage, carried the message of care and concern that the Chinese Ministry of Health, which sponsored the event, most wanted to express.
This was the first national conference the world's most populous country has held on AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases (STD) since the country reported its first AIDS case in 1985.
Statistics from the first half of this year show that the HIV-infected population had risen by 68 percent over the same period of last year, and the number of STD cases also increased rapidly, Chinese Minister of Health Zhang Wenkang said at the ceremony.
The total number of HIV-positive people is estimated to be between 600,000 and 800,000 and experts warn that it will top 10 million in ten years if the number soars by 30 percent annually. "AIDS is spreading from the specific groups with high risk behavior (such as drug users and prostitutes) to the general population," Zhang said.
The country plans to keep the HIV-infected population under 1.5 million in 2010 and has created programs to prevent and control the spread of the AIDS virus, he added.
"A lot of things have changed since my last visit to China two years ago, in terms of not only the spread of HIV virus, but also (China's) response to the epidemic," said Peter Piot, executive director of the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), at a press conference after the ceremony.
He came to China a week before the conference opened. "This conference is of global significance and the reason is simply this: over the next two decades, what happens in China will determine the global burden of HIV/AIDS," Piot said.
He noted that necessary efforts have been made in China to cope with the AIDS scourge and patients not only in national programs but also in provinces. There is far more willingness now to discuss the issue openly in China -- but still not enough, he said.
(Xinhua News Agency November 14, 2001)