The Ministry of Health Wednesday urged local governments to survey people who have sold blood since the early 1990s looking for HIV infections.
Thousands of people, the majority of whom are farmers in dozens of provinces including Henan and Anhui, sold blood around 1995, before blood was tested for HIV.
A lot of them were infected with the deadly virus and have, in recent years, began to develop full blown AIDS, said ministry spokesman Mao Qun'an.
Among China's estimated 840,000 HIV/AIDS cases, about 20 percent were infected after selling blood, said Ray Yip, director of the Beijing office of the Global AIDS Program of the United States.
China started to test blood used in transfusions in 1997. The country has also campaigned to close all illegal blood stations.
Some major HIV/AIDS epidemic areas caused by blood sales, such as Henan, have moved recently to determine the exact number of people who got the virus through blood sales, Mao said.
In many other places not regarded as major epidemic regions, lots of cases are being reported among people who have sold blood.
For example, 20 people in Chongqing Municipality were recently diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.
Most local governments are unsure of the number of people infected through blood transfusions, Mao told China Daily.
At the same time, many people still do not know they are infected and some die without ever learning what killed them.
The absence of clear information makes prevention and treatment efforts more difficult, Mao said.
The main goal of the recent push, which has to be completed by April 15, 2005, is to get an exact handle on the situation and provide better medical care and relief to sufferers, Mao said.
Henan has provided a very good example to the more than 10 provinces where sales of blood bloomed in the early 1990s.
In a survey conducted since July 26, Henan, the province hardest hit by the epidemic, found 280,000 people who sold blood.
Of them, 25,000 tested positive for HIV. About 20 per cent of them were unknown before the survey, said Yip.
Resolute prevention, control and relief measures in Henan, may help the province become China's cleanest region in between five to seven years while other provinces are still off guard, Yip noted.
The Ministry of Health suggested a number of methods to conduct the surveys including scouring through records of death and blood sales and visiting people who sold blood to look for other potential sellers.
The ministry also produced a technical guide on how to do the HIV test properly and scientifically.
The privacy rights of sufferers must be strictly protected during the process and all their information should be kept confidential, Mao said.
The government will cover the costs of the tests and provide free treatment to all new cases found, Mao said.
(China Daily October 14, 2004)