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Methadone Therapy to Curb Spread of AIDS

As the number of HIV-positive people in Guangdong nearly doubled last year, methadone treatment for drug addicts in the province is being offered to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS.

In Guangdong, the number of HIV-positive people rose to 13,032 last year from 7,477 in 2004, ranking fifth among those for all Chinese provinces and regions, following Yunnan and Henan provinces and the autonomous regions of Guangxi Zhuang and Xinjiang Uygur.

By the end of 2005, 792 AIDS cases had been reported and 355 people had died from the disease in Guangdong, according to an annual report released by the Guangdong Health Department last week.

"Since a lot of HIV carriers who contracted the virus before 1998 have turned into AIDS patients now, the situation of the disease will be much more serious in the future," said Huang Fei, a deputy director of the department, on Friday.

More than 80 percent of the HIV carriers are drug addicts, Huang said.

Guangdong started methadone treatment for drug addicts at the end of 2005, an important move by the government to prevent and control the spread of the virus, he said.

Two hospitals, Dagou County Central Hospital and Taihe County Central Hospital, started to run their methadone program on World AIDS Day (December 1) last year. They are located in the cities of Yangjiang and Taishan respectively, which have a larger number of drug addicts.

In Yangjiang of western Guangdong, dozens of drug addicts have been taking the treatment daily at the Dagou County Central Hospital under the doctor's supervision.

The hospital plans to treat about 200 drug addicts in total.

Taking methadone a synthesized narcotic helps reduce addicts' craving for drugs and deters them from using hypodermic needles that can spread HIV/AIDS and other blood-transmitted diseases.

Moreover, those who take methadone are able to work and return to normal life instead of looking sleepy all day after taking heroin.

To ensure they actually drink methadone, doctors require that those in the program open their mouths and say "thank you" after taking it. Doctors do regular urine tests among methadone takers, preventing them from taking heroin or other drugs during the treatment.

"The methadone program runs quite well," Tan Wenkang, a deputy director of the hospital, told China Daily.

He believed more addicts would take the treatment in the future.

Tan said each addict gets a dose of methadone at 10 yuan (US$1.2).

As methadone is a substitute for drugs, some patients have to take it all their lives, but some can get rid of the drug addiction after they take it for several years, according to Tan.

"Our goal is to set up 10 more methadone treatment clinics in the province this year, making about 2,000 drug addicts benefit," Huang said.

China started the methadone treatment program in 2001 to combat the increasing number of drug addicts.

So far, methadone treatment is available in 127 clinics all over the country. The number may increase by 1,000 in the following five years, according to Huang.

The clinics in Yangjiang and Taishan are among the methadone treatment clinics that are accredited by the central government.

(China Daily February 20, 2006)

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