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China vows to curb AIDS spread
(AP/China Daily)
Updated: 2005-12-01 10:00

Honesty best policy for AIDS prevention

On the occasion of today's World AIDS Day, there is a vital need for China to fully recognize the danger of its worsening epidemic situation.

Health Minister Gao Qiang yesterday unveiled the plan to keep the country's number of HIV-infected people under 1.5 million in the next five years.

The government should be reminded of this year's World AIDS Campaign theme "Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise." What is more important is aggressive and concrete action.

In such a vast and populous country, only by having governments at all levels consciously and strictly implement prevention and control measures can China succeed in effectively stopping the epidemic.

Vice-Health Minister Wang Longde said on Monday the number of reported HIV infection cases in China had grown to 135,630 by the end of September, with 31,143 AIDS patients and 7,773 fatalities.

Since 1985 when China recorded its first HIV infection case, the epidemic has been spreading, though at a comparatively low speed.

Monitoring data from the Ministry of Health suggested the infection rate among sex workers rose from 2 in 10,000 in 1996 to 93 in 10,000 last year. Meanwhile, the infection rate among pregnant women in high-prevalence areas increased from zero in 1997 to 0.26 per cent in 2004.

"This indicates that the epidemic is spreading from high-risk groups to ordinary people, and that China is in a critical period for AIDS prevention," Wang noted.

His stern warning, however, contrasted with what he called "a great gap between the reported cases and the estimated figures."

Medical experts have put the estimated infected number at 840,000, including some 80,000 AIDS patients.

Wang criticized some local officials for continuing to cover up cases of HIV infection, fearful that acknowledging the epidemic would harm economic growth and promotion prospects.

Vice-Premier Wu Yi went further to warn that the gap between reported statistics and the real scale of the epidemic threatens to undermine the country's fight against AIDS.

"If we can't do the maximum to locate carriers and sufferers, then we can't do the maximum to implement prevention and treatment measures," said Wu, also director of the State Council AIDS Prevention and Treatment Work Committee.

The vice-premier's comments should serve as an alarming sign that shoddy AIDS practices, rather than the epidemic itself, poses the real threat to the nation.

Given the shifting patterns of transmission that have exposed growing numbers of Chinese to the risk of infection, China faces a huge task of containing the spread of AIDS among its 1.3 billion people.

Over the past few years, the central government has focused its work on strengthening publicity, improving the surveillance and monitoring systems and introducing intervention measures in a bid to hold back AIDS.

But if local officials are reluctant to co-operate and ignore the prevention measures at provincial and county levels, the central government's efforts will be greatly hindered.

And the failure to detect the real scale of the AIDS epidemic straight away will be like placing a time bomb on the country's future development.

Such a potential danger has grown so great that the central government must take urgent steps to ensure that local officials pay real attention to AIDS prevention work, and do not play the numbers game.

An encouraging sign is that the State Council, China's cabinet, has planned to train all cadres above county level in the next two years to teach them how to better conduct AIDS prevention work.

Besides training, it is equally important for the country to set up a responsibility mechanism to punish anyone who dares to cheat in the battle against the deadly virus.

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