While China is still a low prevalence country of HIV/AIDS, the disease is beginning to spread into the country's general population, Khalid Malik, the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative to China, said in an exclusive interview with the China Daily website Thursday.
"Future efforts have to focus a lot on prevention," he said, arguing that China needs "a very intense campaign on education, on awareness building, on trying to reduce stigma and discrimination."
The epidemic is spreading in the country primarily through what Malik called "high risk groups," including gay men, prostitutes, and drug users.
According a 2007 report by the Ministry of Health, 223,501 people reportedly have infected with HIV, including 62,838 full-blown AIDS patients.
China's efforts to fight HIV/AIDS have increased significantly in recent years. To the tune of 3.81 billion yuan (US$508 million) have been allocated between 2003 and 2007 to combat the disease, the report said.
Beijing has also taken great steps to fight discrimination against AIDS patients. In a highly publicized trip in 2004, Chinese President Hu Jintao visited a Beijing hospital and shook hands with AIDS patients there. Premier Wen Jiabao also visited Anhui Province last year to meet people living with HIV/AIDS and thank aid workers there.
"This is a will to demonstrate that it's OK," Malik said of Hu's visit, which he participated in as well.
"We have to ensure that those who have HIV virus do also have a right to live a normal life," he added.
Malik also noted the growing involvement China's civil society in fighting HIV/AIDS.
"Because the civil society is closer to the people, they can deal with the issues in a more direct way," he said. "The more we can encourage that, the better."