HIV/AIDS population smaller, risk still high
Updated: 2006-01-25 16:15
China lowered its estimate of the number of HIV/AIDS victims in the country
by nearly 30 percent on Wednesday but experts warned against complacency, saying
the figure was still rising with people unaware of the dangers.
200 people a day were infected with HIV last year in China and the disease was
now moving from high-risk groups like sex workers and intravenous drug users
into the general population, health experts said.
The number of people
living with HIV/AIDS was estimated at 650,000, down from a 2003 estimate of
840,000, according to figures released jointly by China's Ministry of Health,
the World Health Organisation and the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS.
receives a dose of AIDS vaccine in the first clinical test to fight the
disease in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in this March 12,
2005 file photo. [newsphoto]
There were also about 70,000 new HIV infections in 2005, around 10,000
more than in 2003, though health experts said they did not have the exact
"Make no mistake, China's AIDS epidemic is growing," Henk
Bekedam, the World Health Organisation's representative in China, told a news
conference. "There is no room for complacency and there is no time to waste.
"In China, public awareness of HIV/AIDS is still far too low, some might
argue even dangerously low. Awareness campaigns must be stepped up quickly and
significantly across the country."
Social stigma still surrounds AIDS in
China, and the slowness to acknowledge the epidemic contributed to its
spread, especially in central Henan province, where in the 1990s millions sold
blood to unsanitary clinics.
A joint publication from the WHO, the UN's
AIDS programme and China's health ministry said one of the reasons the 2005
figure was lower because the estimate for those who developed AIDS from donating
blood was originally too high.
But there are still reports of infected
blood donors spreading the virus, including a recent case in the northeast
province of Liaoning in which 23 people were infected before the donor was
diagnosed with the disease.
Ministry of Health regulations that take
effect in March will make collection centres responsible for the safety of blood
and ban sales of donated blood to try to curb such cases.
Though improved data
collection abilities also contributed to the lower estimate, this was still no
cause to breathe easier, experts said.
"We're getting a better picture of
the AIDS situation in China, but that doesn't mean that the situation in
improving," said Joel Rehnstrom, China country coordinator for UNAIDS.
"The epidemic therefore is equally or more serious than previously
thought pretty much all over China," he said.
The United Nations has
warned that China could have 10 million cases of HIV by 2010 unless it takes
steps to educate the public and fight the epidemic, but the WHO says that figure
is now likely outdated.
Still, experts have warned that China's
increasingly mobile population faces a broader risk as more infections occur
through drug injection and sexual contact.
Wednesday's joint statement
said that in parts of Henan and the far-western border provinces of Yunnan and
Xinjiang, HIV prevalence exceeded 1 percent among pregnant women.
"Surveillance data indicates that HIV is spreading from drug users, sex
workers and their clients and other high-risk populations to the general
population," it said.