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HIV Cases in China Up 30%
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The reported number of HIV/AIDS cases in China has grown by nearly 30 percent this year compared with 2005, according to figures released yesterday by the Ministry of Health.

Health officials attributed many of the new cases to better reporting of existing sufferers although they warned the virus appeared to be spreading from high-risk groups to the general public.

The reported number of cases has grown to 183,733 this year. This is up from 144,089 at the end of last year, according to statistics announced by the Ministry of Health yesterday. Of the reported cases 40,667 had developed into AIDS, statistics showed.

Experts from the United Nations and the Ministry of Health estimate that some 650,000 people in China carried HIV at the end of December 2005. This suggests many people are unaware they have the virus.

As of October 31 the number of people who've died in China as a result of illnesses associated with the HIV virus was 12,464, Hao Yang, deputy director of the Ministry of Health's Disease Control Bureau, said Tuesday.

Hao added that the virus appeared to be spreading from so-called high-risk groups to the general public.

Drug abuse accounted for 37 percent of the cases reported in the first 10 months of the year while unsafe sexual contact had caused 28 percent, Hao explained. These two activities had caused most of the infections, Hao added. Before 2002 only 10 percent of all infections were caused by sexual contact.

Ministry officials who've been observing the monitoring sites around the country have found that the percentage of sex workers infected by HIV/AIDS had grown to 1 percent last year compared with 0.02 per cent in 1996.

HIV testing has discovered that the infection rate among pregnant women in the provinces is serious. In southwest China's Yunnan Province it's about 1 percent. Such statistics are the clearest evidence yet that the virus is spreading from high-risk groups to the general public as a result of unsafe sexual contact and drug abuse.

Hao said these two causes posed a great danger because effective measures to dissuade people from such unsafe behavior weren't yet in place.

An example is that according to an investigation by public health workers only 38 percent of prostitutes in certain areas insisted on using condoms. And about half of the drug abusers surveyed still shared syringes while taking drugs, Hao said.

Sexual activity among gay men is also a source of new HIV/AIDS infections. Statistics show that in some areas the infection rate among gay men is between 1 and 4 percent.

Government officials have launched a concerted effort to prevent and control HIV/AIDS in recent years. It has greatly enhanced HIV testing and monitoring among both high-risk groups and the general public which has helped public health workers identify cases.

The provincial government of Central China's Henan launched a wide-ranging investigation of people who sold blood in the 1990s and found more than 30,000 carriers. The majority had been infected by contaminated blood. Farmers from many regions, especially in Henan, Shanxi and Anhui, sold blood in the 1990s to earn extra money.

Among the total reported cases this year 5.1 percent were caused by people selling blood illegally or receiving infected blood from hospitals.

The central government also offers free HIV testing, anti-virus treatment and education for the children of HIV/AIDS sufferers. Some 28,757 people in 31 provinces and regions received free anti-viral treatment. By the end of this year the number will reach to 30,000.

(China Daily November 22, 2006)

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