Hong Kong and Guangdong have agreed to increase joint efforts to stop the spread of AIDS after the neighbors each reported record numbers of new HIV cases last year.
Hong Kong's Department of Health revealed that the special administrative region (SAR) reported 373 new cases of HIV in 2006, up 19 percent on the 313 cases in the previous year. The number of new cases has grown steadily from 213 in 2001 and 268 in 2004.
In Guangdong Province, 4,823 new HIV cases were recorded between January and October last year, up 8.4 percent on the corresponding period in 2005, sources from the Guangdong Provincial Health Department said.
"As many of the new cases were a result of sexual activity, we will work with the Hong Kong health department to launch a series of education campaigns to increase public awareness," said Yu Dewen, a spokesman for the Guangdong health authority.
As part of a coordinated surveillance and prevention scheme signed in early 2003, information on new HIV cases is released every two months to the public by both sides.
Guangdong currently has 145 hospitals that offer medical checkups and treatment for people with HIV from both Guangdong and Hong Kong.
A spokesman for the Hong Kong health authority said the two sides had previously released an educational film, Love Under the Sun, which was produced by renowned moviemaker Johnnie To.
He said the department was also using the HIV epidemiology electronic platform, which was set up with 13 cities in the Pearl River Delta region, to track and monitor the HIV situation there.
Microbiologist Lo Wing-lok from Hong Kong said both the SAR and the Guangdong government should join hands to speed up their education campaigns.
"The public must be made aware that AIDS is a serious disease that can leave them unable to work and puts a heavy burden on their families. They should also know that the medicines used to treat the disease have side effects," he said.
But Lo said more proactive measures should also be taken, including giving free checkups to Hong Kong men on the mainland and to prostitutes in Hong Kong.
"In the past, all prostitutes, regardless of whether they were from the mainland or not, could enjoy free medical checks for HIV. But the SAR government recently changed the policy and now demands that non-residents pay the full cost of the service, which is almost HK$1,000," Lo said.
"This discourages the prostitutes from having regular checkups and therefore creates a greater public health risk," he said.
(China Daily March 21, 2007)