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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.

Almost 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.

A volunteer 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]
A volunteer 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]
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.

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 figures.

"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.

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