Safe sex next front in China's AIDS battle
Updated: 2006-02-23 09:24
When Dawei first started having sex, he had no idea that using a condom could
help protect him from AIDS. Now he never leaves home without putting a few in
"I didn't use condoms," said the 23-year-old. "I thought that because we were
comfortable with each other, we didn't have to. I had only a very hazy idea
about AIDS then."
He says he has no idea when he became infected, or by whom. Today he
dedicates his life to educating other people about the disease and safe sex.
learn the correct way to use condoms in Qingdao, east China's Shandong
Province in this December 1, 2005 photo. Experts say safe sex is one
of the effective ways to prevent AIDS.
"It's everyone's responsibility," he says quietly. "This is a common enemy."
Dawei is one of an estimated 650,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in China.
Yet the pattern of infection is changing, and that is worrying health experts.
"The sex part, which is now increasing as a mode of transmission, is a very
clear sign that it might be moving toward the general population," said Henk
Bekedam, the World Health Organisation's representative in China.
But the fight to stop the spread of the disease sexually is being hampered by
a lack of education, unwillingness to talk about sex, and in some cases by
downright hostility from ordinary people, experts and activists say.
"We've tried to hand out condoms and AIDS information at bars and clubs, but
many people don't want to take them," said one Chinese AIDS activist, who asked
not to be named.
"They think that if they do, it means you think they are a bad person and
that you suspect they might already have AIDS. There is still a lot of shame
about sex in China."
INFECTION ROUTE CHANGING
China recorded its first outbreak of AIDS in 1989. During the 1990s, many
people -- notably in the central province of Henan -- contracted the virus
through contaminated blood transfusions.
Last year, there were about 25,000 deaths from AIDS across China. In January,
Beijing lowered by about 30 percent its estimate of the number of people living
with HIV/AIDS, yet warned against complacency, saying that the figure was still
rising with people unaware of the danger.
"We have a little bit more than 40 percent related to
injecting drug use and a little bit less than 40 percent related to sexual
transmission. It seems to be reversing," said Joel Rehnstrom, China country
coordinator for UNAIDS.