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Unsafe Sex Major Cause of HIV Infection
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Unsafe sex has for the first time overtaken drug abuse through injections as the main cause of new HIV infections in the country, according to the latest annual report released by the Ministry of Health (MOH).

The finding suggests the virus is spreading from high-risk groups to the general public.

Of the 70,000 new HIV infections recorded in 2005, 49.8 percent were through sexual contact, said a report released jointly by the MOH and the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Figures for 2006 are not available.

Injected drug use ranked second, accounting for 48.6 percent of the total. Nevertheless, drug abuse was the dominant transmission route for the 650,000 people living with HIV, according to official figures.

"It's the first time since 1989 when the first HIV infection was detected for sex to top the transmission list nationwide," said Gao Qi, a project manager with Beijing-based China HIV/AIDS Information Network.

The new trend indicates a further spread of the deadly virus and a tougher war against the epidemic, Gao said.

To address the challenge, the government has taken a slew of measures highlighting HIV intervention and prevention among sex workers, deemed the "bridge population" linking those at most HIV risk and the general population.

Surveys in recent decades show one out of 10 sexually active men have been involved with prostitution at least once, said Pan Suiming, a leading sociologist at Renmin University of China.

"As it's hard to spot clients who buy sex, intervention has to begin with sex workers," said Tan Xiaodong, professor at the School of Public Health of Wuhan University.

Inspired by the 100 percent condom-use campaign targeting sex workers in Thailand, the Chinese government has initiated a similar program.

Some provinces like Yunnan and Henan have also instituted mandatory HIV tests for sex workers.

Globally, 80 percent of the total 39.5 million HIV-positive people contracted the disease through sex, according to the World Health Organization.

"The new trend in China is in line with the international situation," Tan said.

In addition, there has been a continuous spike of HIV prevalence among Chinese men who have sex with men.

About 7.3 percent of new infections through sex are among gay men, said the 2005 report, making the long-ignored group a focus of prevention efforts.

(China Daily August 20, 2007)

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