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First human trials of AIDS vaccine launched
Updated: 2005-03-13 11:51

China, criticized for a slow initial response to its AIDS/HIV crisis, has begun its first human trials of a new AIDS vaccine, Xinhua news agency said.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice-Premier Wu Yi, who also serves as the health minister, marked World AIDS Day Monday by meeting with AIDS patients at Beijing's Ditan Hospital, December 1, 2003. Wen became the first Chinese premier to shake hands with AIDS patients. China has reported 840,000 HIV/AIDS cases, among which 80,000 were AIDS patients. Despite the low prevalence rate nationally, the epidemic spread to 31 provinces of the country. [Xinhua]

A 20-year-old man became the first volunteer to receive the AIDS vaccine on Saturday, followed by seven others, four of them women, Xinhua said.

Some 49 volunteers aged between 18 and 50 would receive the tests in three phases, the first lasting 14 months.

Experts have faulted China for being slow to recognize a growing AIDS problem, exacerbated by the cover-up of the blood-selling schemes in the central province of Henan that infected scores of people in the mid-1990s.

The government estimates that China, with a 1.3 billion population, has 840,000 people with HIV.

The United Nations has said that the number of HIV/AIDS victims in China could rise to 10 million by 2010 unless serious steps are taken to fight the disease.

On World AIDS Day in 2003, Premier Wen Jiabao shook hands with AIDS patients at a Beijing hospital in a symbolic display of commitment to fighting the disease.

But efforts to step up AIDS prevention remain shackled by conservative attitudes toward sex.

The AIDS virus has infected more than 43 million people worldwide and killed 25 million. The incurable virus spreads through sexual contact, blood products and mothers' milk but can be controlled to some degree with cocktails of drugs called highly active antiretroviral therapy.

The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative has said dozens of potential vaccines are being tested and more than 70 human clinical trials have taken place although none has yet promised to conquer the virus.

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