AIDS efforts draw praise from int'l researchers

Updated: 2007-02-24 09:05

Washington: China should be praised for its efforts to fight AIDS, and some of its actions can set an example for other countries, an international team of researchers said on Thursday.

They said China had learned from its dealing with SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and was working to control the AIDS virus, which has infected an estimated 650,000 Chinese.

"China was somewhat slow to respond but once they responded they did it in a big way," said Roger Detels, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who led the team.

"And I think it is appropriate to praise them for responding vigorously."

Writing in the Lancet medical journal, Detels and colleagues singled out the Chinese government for unusual praise. Chinese President Hu Jintao, for example, publicly shook hands with AIDS patients, helping to battle the stigma, they pointed out.

Countries that have succeeded in battling AIDS, such as Uganda and Thailand, have all had major commitments from the top of the government, he said.

"The challenge of managing the SARS epidemic in 2003 is often credited with further motivating the government to take aggressive policy action on HIV-related issues," they wrote.

"SARS showed not only how infectious diseases could threaten economic and social stability, but also the effect of China's policies on international health problems."

The Chinese government now provides free AIDS drugs to rural residents and city dwellers without insurance. Other measures include:

Free voluntary counseling and testing

Free drugs to HIV-infected pregnant women to prevent mother-to-child transmission, and HIV testing of newborn babies

Free schooling for AIDS orphans

Care and economic assistance to the households of people living with HIV/AIDS.

"These bold programs have emerged from a process of gradual and prolonged dialogue and collaboration between officials at every level of government, researchers, service providers, policymakers and politicians, and have led to decisive action," concluded the researchers.

The researchers include Wu Zunyou of China's National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention and Sheena Sullivan of Edith Cowan University, in Perth, Australia.

HIV infects 39 million people globally and experts fear the incurable disease will spread even farther if countries do not act to control it.

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