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Fighting off HIV/AIDS
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Several years ago the country became the target of international criticism after the media exposed the so-called AIDS villages in Henan Province. China has come a long way since then. The government has now impressed the whole world with its strong commitment and concrete actions it has taken to check the spread of the deadly disease.

The awards given to Vice-Minister of Health Wang Longde and Qingdao University Professor Zhang Beichuan by UNAIDS yesterday have burnished the country's international reputation.

Dr Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, also praised the government's prevention work after touring the former Henan AIDS villages, which were ravaged by the disease in the early 1990s after contaminated blood found its way into the illegal blood trade.

Thanks to tireless efforts by governments at all levels and members of the public, the situation in those villages has improved substantially. All infected people now receive free checkups and medication, while the orphans of people who have died because of the disease receive subsidies from the government.

Henan's example is typical of the efforts the government has undertaken in recent years to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in the world's most populous country.

Last year, the authorities put in place a special regulation to help check the spread of HIV. The rule clearly defines the government's responsibilities in fighting the disease, laying the legal groundwork for the crusade. A national action plan has also been drawn up to guide such efforts over the next several years.

Despite everything that has been achieved, we should remain sober-minded as we are still in the middle of an all-out war against a deadly adversary.

The country is home to 650,000 people infected with HIV. Providing timely and affordable medication to these people is a challenge in itself.

Moreover, the concentration of infections within certain segments of society - women, migrant workers and gays, in particular - poses a challenge to prevention work.

The high incidence of AIDS among gay men needs to be addressed immediately. Professor Zhang estimates that there are 30 million gay men in China.

(China Daily July 18, 2007)

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