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More Free Antiretroviral Therapy

China plans to treat another 20,000 to 30,000 people with HIV/AIDS next year with free antiretroviral therapy (ART), a senior health official said.

"By the end of last June, a total of 10,388 people with AIDS from 18 provinces had received free ART," Hao Yang, deputy head of the Ministry of Health’s disease control department, said on Tuesday.

He was speaking at a press conference hosted jointly by the ministry and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The government has estimated that there are 840,000 Chinese with HIV, of whom 80,000 have AIDS. Since a large number of people got infected in the mid 1990s, many have now begun to develop AIDS and are in urgent need of treatment.

In September 2003, the government announced that it would provide free ART to those in rural areas, as well as to people in cities who could not afford it.

In Henan Province, Hao said approximately 9,000 people with AIDS are now getting free ART.

"Over the past year, nearly 3,000 patients in Henan stopped taking free antiretroviral drugs due to strong side effects or other reasons and switched to free traditional Chinese medicines," he added.

Henan is one of the worst hit provinces and, by September this year, it had reported 25,036 people known to have HIV and 11,815 AIDS diagnoses.

"By the end of next year, free ART is expected to be provided to 11,000 people in the province," Hao said.

Providing free ART to such a large number is unparalleled elsewhere in the world, he acknowledged, adding that China will go on improving testing and monitoring and gradually extend free ART to a larger area.

At the press conference, Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund affirmed China's efforts in HIV/AIDS prevention and control.

He said China has become aware the importance of fighting the epidemic, and not only in those provinces where it is already well established, "But also to intervene vigorously in other parts of the country, where prevalence is low and the challenge is to keep it low."

Feachem also said investments need to continue to grow if the epidemic is to be contained. He cited an urgent need to ensure political commitment at all levels, increase awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, improve overall planning, and to reduce stigma through enforcing new anti-discrimination legislation and spread information about the epidemic.

He added that the government also needs to ensure supplies of drugs, increase HIV testing, improve blood safety and increase monitoring of ongoing efforts.
Founded in 2002, the Global Fund is a unique public-private partnership dedicated to attracting and disbursing additional resources to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

It has committed US$113 million to China, of which 56 million was for HIV/AIDS, 53.5 million for tuberculosis and 3.5 million for malaria. Feachem said, "If these grants yield the agreed results in their first two years, another 160 million will be available."

He went on to say that, along with other international partners, the fund is committed to working closely with China to continue to increase its response to HIV/AIDS.

"There are major challenges lying in front us. But I am encouraged by the progress made so far and I am encouraged by the commitment of the Chinese government and other organizations in China to seriously address the issue and to overcome HIV/AIDS," Feachem said.

(Xinhua News Agency December 8, 2004)

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