China is going to focus its AIDS prevention work on the country's 200 million migrant workers who are more vulnerable than other groups to the deadly disease, said Hu Xiaoyi, Vice Minister of Labor and Social Security, on Friday.
China will launch a three-year education campaign to acquaint migrant workers and their families with knowledge about AIDS prevention and reduce discrimination against HIV carriers in the workplace.
The main aims of the program are to raise public awareness of AIDS prevention, protect the employment rights of people with HIV and reduce stigma and discrimination in the workplace.
China's Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MOLSS) is responsible for carrying out the program which is funded by the United States Department of Labor.
Hu Xiaoyi, vice minister of MOLSS, said a great number of Chinese migrant rural workers are vulnerable because they are less aware of HIV/AIDS.
"The education program will target enterprises with large numbers of migrant rural workers and provide relevant training courses," Hu said.
The new AIDS prevention program being co-sponsored by the Chinese and American governments.
The education program will be mainly conducted in work places that employ large numbers of migrant workers, said Zheng Dongliang, the program's director in Beijing on Friday.
Migrant workers are mainly young men who are away from their spouses for most of the year, leading some to seek the services of prostitutes, which in turn makes them vulnerable to HIV infection.
Statistics from Beijing's Health Bureau show that migrant workers accounted for about eighty percent of Beijing's new HIV carriers last year.
At the program's launch, Zheng said employers and migrant workers will be taught how AIDS is transmitted and how it can be prevented. Free brochures will be given out to workers.
"We also want to protect the rights of HIV carriers to work and reduce the stigma they face in the workplace," he said.
The stigma is so great in China that many migrant workers hesitate to take free HIV tests that are available at their work place, fearing they may be fired if they test positive.
US Embassy counselor Deborah Selogohn said the education program will also help raise the awareness of the migrant worker's spouses to prevent them from being infected.
Selogohn said that the HIV/AIDS workplace education project has been implemented in 23 countries and she was glad to see its launch in China.
She said through the program, the US government will help build capacity and share effective approaches in preventing and treating HIV/AIDS and caring for HIV/AIDS sufferers.
China has 200 million migrant workers, of which more than 120 million work in cities. The remainder work in towns.
This week's Caijing Magazine's online edition reported that the US Department of Labor is providing US$3.5 million in funding for the program, implemented by China's Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MLSS).
According to Zheng, the Chinese ministry has conducted pilot projects of the program in Guangdong, Yunnan and Anhui provinces in China last year.
China is at a key stage in its fight against AIDS/HIV. A report from the International Labor Organization estimates that China could lose five million laborers by 2015 if it doesn't take effective measures to address the grave problem.
China reported 183,733 HIV and AIDS cases in 2006, up 30 percent from 2005. The increase was partly due to an improvement in case reporting.
Experts from the Ministry of Health estimate there are actually 650,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in China. Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi has vowed to limit the number of AIDS cases to 1.5 million by 2010.
(Xinhua News Agency January 27, 2007)