Chinese ‘Ineffective’ at HIV Prevention, as Prostitution Fuels Epidemic
Two separate reports at the 7th Western Pacific Conference on Chemotherapy and Infectious Diseases in Hong Kong suggest that Chinese efforts to stop the spread of HIV are failing and need reevaluation, Reuters/Excite News reports. Dr. Ai-xia Wang of the Peking Union Medical College Hospital said that although condom use is "practiced widely" in the country, it is taught for "family planning purposes," with little attention given to STD prevention. Condom education is arranged for newlyweds by community groups, but Wang "doubts whether these schemes reach the target population where the prevention of HIV/AIDS is most needed." In a separate presentation, Dr. Yiming Shao of the National Center for AIDS Prevention and Control estimated that the actual number of HIV cases in China is "20 to 25 times" higher than the official government number of 20,711. He estimates that "sometime between 2000 and 2001" China will have one million cases with 10 million cases possible by 2010. With intravenous drug use on the rise and an increasingly mobile population, researchers have found that "each drug trafficking route is associated with a different HIV-1 recombinant strain," according to Shao. He added that "almost all (types) in the M group of HIV-1 as well as HIV-2" have been found in sequences obtained from over 20 Asian Pacific countries, demonstrating the "ever-increasing mobile activity" of the region (Mulley, Reuters Health/Excite News, 12/20).
The Prostitution Problem
Although intravenous drug use historically has been the primary avenue of infection for the Chinese, heterosexual intercourse "is becoming a major mode of HIV transmission," due in part to the nation's "burgeoning population of prostitutes," the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Tan Leshan, deputy director of the British Save the Children program that operates HIV/AIDS programs in Yunnan, said, "[R]ecently, the infection through sex has been increasing. Prostitution is now everywhere, and in many rural areas, people have no knowledge of HIV." By some estimates, China has four million prostitutes, most of whom are in their late teens and early 20s and poorly educated. Although Communists banned prostitution when they took control of the country in 1949, today the ban is "widely ignored," particularly by a population that has grown "more mobile, more entrepreneurial, and in some cases, more desperate." After years of "silence," the Chinese government has shifted its perception of AIDS as a "foreign disease" and has now begun to issue national health warnings. However, with a "crumbling" health care system, a "dramatically" declining number of available HIV tests due to budget cuts, a very limited number of AIDS treatment centers across the country and only 3.8% of China's citizens aware of how HIV is transmitted, the country faces a growing crisis (Dorgan, Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/22).