Chinese Leaders Beginning to Acknowledge Rampant ‘Love Disease’Chinese officials are "finally appreciating" the threat that HIV/AIDS poses to the nation after "downplaying the love-disease problem" for 15 years, the Lancet reports. Zeng Yi of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the nation's senior AIDS researcher, has stated that the number of HIV infections could increase by as much as 10 times and exceed six million by 2005. The resulting economic losses could cost China $56 to $93 billion, and "fears that AIDS could ruin the economic gains made with great difficulty ... [are] what could ultimately motivate central policy makers to face their devils and forcefully commit to action." Although economic prosperity has reached some urban centers, poverty remains the "norm" in the rural districts, where 100 million people engage in migrant work. Selling blood is one way for rural people to "make ends meet," which has contributed to the spread of HIV. A recent article in Nanfang Zhoumo, a liberal Chinese paper, noted that blood trade collectors "use unsterilized equipment, pool the donated blood, extract the plasma, then return red blood cells to the donors." Recent newspaper warnings about the blood trade have been "universal," and the Ministry of Health has begun a "crack down" on the practice. The rise in illegal drug use has also contributed to the increase in HIV infections, especially in the southwest and northwest border regions where "the spread of injection drug use and infection shadow[s] the [drug] trafficking routes." Seventy percent of new HIV cases are attributable to IV drug users, mostly men between the ages of 20 and 29.
General 'Reluctance' to Acknowledge Problem
Despite the growing numbers, "officials have been reluctant to admit that their country has succumbed to a disease commonly associated with moral degeneration and sexual promiscuity." Awareness remains low, with a Ministry of Health survey showing that only 3% of respondents knew that HIV is transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids. People infected with HIV are often reluctant to reveal their status or seek care because of "painful discrimination and ignorance from an unsympathetic public." The high cost of drug therapies prevents most people from getting treatment. Cao Yunzhen, director of China's National Center for AIDS Prevention and Control, said that she wants to see "good training at the local level, more treatment centers to address the needs of those already afflicted, and programs to educate the public on how to live with AIDS" (Beach, Lancet, 1/13).