What is the weakest, but most important sector of China's HIV/AIDS prevention and control network?
One answer to the question, many people believe, is the awareness of officials at various levels.
One key to the problem has been explored after three years of experiments and efforts at the Party School of the Communist Party of China.
As the top training center for almost all the Party's middle and high-ranking officials, the school is an ideal place to raise HIV/AIDS awareness among officials, said Mao Qun'an, spokesman of the Ministry of Health.
"The reason is very simple: it is these officials who put the central government's political commitment on HIV/AIDS control into practice," Mao told China Daily.
Lectures on HIV/AIDS have become an extracurricular training course, paid increasing attention to by students, and have served to change attitudes towards the disease.
The HIV/AIDS issue has been in discussion since 2001 at the school as one topic of public health problems taught by Zhang Wenkang, former Chinese health minister, Mao added.
However, for a long time, students have thought such lectures out of place, said Jin Wei, a professor at the school who masterminded a HIV/AIDS policy education program in 2001.
To them, such matters should be the business of health departments and have little to do with them, Jin said.
Knowledge of HIV/AIDS and control policies is also quite poor among officials from various parts of China, which currently has about 840,000 sufferers.
According to a poll taken in the school in 2001, about 23 per cent of the 400 respondents had no idea about China's long and medium term program for HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control (1998-2010), a document approved by the State Council in 1998.
The poll also revealed some 36 per cent believed mosquitoes could transmit the virus.
Public and official awareness has been raised in the recent years, especially after visits by Premier Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao to AIDS patients in 2003 and 2004 respectively, said Mao.
However, the visits are not enough if there are no follow-up measures to strengthen the HIV/AIDS education of present and future officials, said Ray Yip, director of the Beijing office of the Global AIDS Program of the United States.
"The education of Party officials now makes me believe that the Party has sincerely taken responsibility for HIV/AIDS control, and do not see it as only an affair of the government," Yip said.
(China Daily December 15, 2004)