850,000 HIV carriers
The Borneo Post - Friday, 12 April, 2002

BEIJING: Chinese health officials estimate that 850,000 people in China have contracted the HIV virus, an increase of more than quarter of a million over last year's figure, the official Xinhua news agency said yesterday.

The estimate - more than double that given in 1999 - was the highest ever made public in China about an HIV/AIDS epidemic that health experts say could spiral out of control unless the government takes swift action.

The World Health Organisation has said China and India, the world's most populous nations, need far-reaching AIDS control programmes to avoid the fate of sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to over 70 percent of those infected with HIV.

Officially registered HIV cases in China's 1.3 billion-strong population are still absurdly low due to strong social taboos about the disease, Western health experts say.

By the end of last year, the Ministry of Health had recorded 30,736 people with the HIV virus, among whom 1,594 had AIDS and 684 had died of the disease, Xinhua said. Chinese health officials have admitted for several years that official figures are way too low.

Their unofficial estimates for the number of HIV carriers in China have risen steadily from 400,000 in 1999 to 500,000 in 2000 and 600,000 in 2001. Experts at China's National Centre for Disease Control and Prevention now estimated the number of HIV/AIDS cases might have reached 850,000 by the end of 2001, Xinhua said.

The number of those with AIDS was put at 200,000, over half of whom had lost their lives due to the disease, Xinhua said.

Needle-sharing among intravenous drug users caused 68 percent of confirmed HIV cases, while illegal blood transfusions accounted for 9.7 percent and unsafe sex 7.2 percent, it added.

Beijing went public with its fight against AIDS last year after state media exposed the rampant spread of the HIV virus in rural Henan province, where farmers sold their blood to purchasing stations.

The blood banks pooled donations in a large tub, extracted plasma and then pumped the residue back into villagers.

The United Nations says China could have 10 million HIV/AIDS sufferers by 2010 unless it acts decisively. Although its infection rates are still far lower than in Africa, health experts say China has all the preconditions for a massive AIDS epidemic - a large mobile population, widespread prostitution and increasing sexual promiscuity among young people. - Reuters