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China, US cooperate in AIDS fight
(AP)
Updated: 2005-08-30 10:24

BALTIMORE - Chinese health officials plan to announce an AIDS cooperation partnership with a U.S. institute, a measure that takes aim at combating what health officials fear will be a tenfold surge in HIV infection in China over the next five years, AP reported.

 Chinese children, who either lost their parents to AIDS or are HIV carriers, attend a ceremony held to mark World AIDS Day in Beijing, Dec. 1, 2004. The number of people contracting the AIDS virus in China is rising and infections are spreading from high-risk groups such as drug users to the general population, according to a study. [AP]
Chinese children, who either lost their parents to AIDS or are HIV carriers, attend a ceremony held to mark World AIDS Day in Beijing, Dec. 1, 2004. The number of people contracting the AIDS virus in China is rising and infections are spreading from high-risk groups such as drug users to the general population, according to a study. [AP]

The partnership between the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of Maryland's Institute of Human Virology founded by one of the co-discoverers of the virus covers collaboration on clinical trials, technical assistance and development of better and faster tests and vaccines, institute officials said.

The step comes as United Nations health officials warned in June that Asia's AIDS problem could rival sub-Saharan Africa if quick action is not taken to stem new infections.

There are 5.1 million people with the virus in India, second only to South Africa with 5.3 million infections, according to UNAIDS estimates for 2003. About 840,000 people in China have the virus, according to the Chinese Ministry of Health, but the UN has warned that number could grow to 10 million by 2010 if the epidemic is left unchecked.

The Maryland institute, which combines laboratory research, epidemiology and clinical research in an effort to get new discoveries to the neediest, can help the Chinese develop strategies and help teach physicians about diagnosis and management of the disease, among other issues, said Richard Gallo, the institute's founder-director.

Other research will focus on the history of the disease in China and a study of traditional Chinese medicines for possible treatment.

The signing ceremony was planned for Monday, the first day of IHV's annual international AIDS meeting in Baltimore and was expected to include Gallo, China CDC Director Wang Yu and Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele.

While the Chinese CDC already sends researchers to the institute for training, the new agreement is expected to boost bilateral cooperation and allow American researchers to benefit from China's centuries old medical experience.

"This is more than just missionary work," Gallo said. "I think we have a real chance of getting help from China."

Under the program, institute researchers could also have greater access to non-human primates which are more strictly controlled in the United States. They would also have access to tens of thousands of people for trials, said Gallo.

This partnership is the newest measure in the Chinese government's growing determination in recent years to fight the virus.

"In the mid-90s to late-90s, we know that the government recognized it as a problem, but they did not put enough priority on it," said Shao Yiming, chief expert for the National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention, part of the Chinese CDC. "There was talking, but not real action."

One area where Maryland's Institute of Human Virology can help is with the organization of a nationwide campaign for prevention, testing and treatment of HIV and AIDS, Shao said. The government has increased funding to about $100 million (euro81.3 million) last year, so the challenge is implementing such an effort across a country with 1.3 billion people, Shao said.

"That doesn't mean that (Chinese health workers) are not technically good enough, they're just not so experienced with managing a national campaign at this level," he said. "We need an operational team, which is not in place on a large scale."

The institute is also working on a commercial expansion of this partnership with a three-way collaboration with the China CDC and CK Life Sciences, a Hong Kong-based pharmaceutical company, which they hope to sign sometime later this year, Gallo said.



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