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    Call to give AIDS body real power
(HK Edition, ZHANG FENG, China Daily staff)

A top health official has urged the State Council to give more authority and power to the organization co-ordinating the fight against HIV/AIDS across China.

Zeng Yi, a senior HIV/AIDS expert from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, made the call at a symposium held in Beijing's Tsinghua University yesterday.

The enhanced organization - with similar powers to the one established during the recent SARS epidemic - should not only mobilize the support of local governments at various levels but also improve epidemic surveillance and public awareness, Zeng told China Daily.

A committee under the State Council co-ordinates various departments and leads the country's war against HIV/AIDS.

However, he said the committee should be given more authority and power to engage local governments, various departments and residents.

"We should tell our people the true situation and take effective measures. We should urgently try our best to find all the HIV carriers and AIDS patients and give them our care and support," Zeng said.

China is estimated to have 760,000 HIV carriers and 80,000 with full-blown AIDS, Gao Qiang, China's executive deputy minister of health, said recently.

However, the official number of HIV/AIDS cases reported by health institutes to the Ministry of Health is only about 45,000.

That means there are more than 800,000 unidentified HIV carriers and AIDS patients, many continuing their high-risk activities without taking precautions, said Professor Jing Jun from Tsinghua University.

China still has a window of opportunity, which may disappear in two or three years, to prevent the deadly epidemic from fast spreading, said Ray Yip, an official from the Global AIDS Programme in China of the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States.

The epidemic is presently mostly confined to high-risk groups and is yet to spread widely in the rest of the community.

However, the government must promise care and protection to those at high risk of the disease or they will not come forward for health checks, Yip said.

Gao Qiang promised in September at a special United Nations conference on HIV/AIDS to strengthen the responsibility of governments and carry comprehensive care projects to 124 HIV-stricken counties.

China has made great efforts and progress in fighting against HIV/AIDS in the past years. However, stronger leadership and support from the highest level of the government is needed, said David Ho, a leading AIDS researcher with the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Centre at Rockefeller University in New York.

Ho, the developer of the "cocktails" treatment on AIDS patients, made the remarks at the Tsinghua forum.

Former US president Bill Clinton echoed Ho's call at the forum, comparing the 800 deaths from the SARS outbreak in China to the 25 million worldwide who have died of AIDS so far.

He said SARS was a wake-up call because of its strong negative impact on the economy.

(HK Edition 11/11/2003 page1)

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