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AIDS prevention targets high-risk activities
By Zhang Feng (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-04-12 09:23

Health authorities will start intervention work against high-risk activities such as intravenous drug use and prostitution in a bid to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country.

They are the two main channels of HIV/AIDS transmission in China.

The intervention measures include the free distribution of condoms at all entertainment venues and providing new syringes and methadone, a substitute drug in the treatment of morphine or heroin addiction, according to Hao Yang, the Ministry of Health's HIV/AIDS division director.

The strategies, as pilot schemes, have already been implemented in some regions over the past few years - but without obvious progress.

Some officials and citizens are concerned they will encourage drug use and prostitution, both of which are illegal.

But the central government has vowed to support the measures since there are already some 840,000 HIV/AIDS cases in China, according to estimates by medical workers. The figure is growing at an annual rate of 30 per cent.

In a recent document released to strengthen HIV/AIDS control work, the State Council urged the health, public security and other departments to work more closely to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Meanwhile, the document, for the first time in China, clearly stresses that the prevention and control of the epidemic will become a top indicator for evaluating the achievements of local officials.

Vice-Premier Wu Yi, also the director of a newly established special national work committee on HIV/AIDS control, stressed last week at a national conference on HIV/AIDS that any officials who do not carry out HIV/AIDS control work to the letter - such as hiding the real extent of the epidemic or hindering preventative programmes - will be severely punished.

According to Hao, the Ministry of Health, with assistance from international organizations and some non-governmental groups, has supplied drug addicts in 17 regions with new syringes since 2001.

The methadone programme started in March in eight sites, including Yunnan, Guangxi, Guangdong, Guizhou and Sichuan.

The work has been carried out in special stations in the local centres of disease control and prevention.

The condom distribution scheme has been carried out in a number of entertainment venues on the Chinese mainland. The Ministry of Health hopes that the initiative will be more widely followed, in addition to the further spread of HIV/AIDS prevention and control knowledge.

Hubei Province, for example, has promised to have condom dispensing machines in all of its entertainment sites and hotels by 2006.

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