With New HIV Infections Rising, China Admits ‘Serious’ AIDS Epidemic
With HIV infection rates in the country increasing by more than two-thirds, the Chinese government "admit[ted]" today that China is facing a "'very serious' AIDS epidemic," Reuters/Contra Costa Times reports (Vidaillet, Reuters/Contra Costa Times, 8/23). The country reported having 3,541 new HIV infections in the first six months of 2001, a 67% increase compared to the 2,115 cases reported in the first half of last year, according to the Chinese Ministry of Health (AP/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/23). Reuters/Contra Costa Times reports that "in a rare admission by a high-level official" of the country's HIV/AIDS problem, Vice Health Minister Yin Dakui told a news conference today that China is "faced with a very serious epidemic of HIV/AIDS." However, Dr. Sun Xinhua, director of a division of the country's Department of Disease Control, said that officials believe that the "problem" is located "only in Henan," where unsafe blood collection practices have helped spread HIV. Sun said that the Chinese government will "send some people to get some surveys, to go to the villages" to examine the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country (Reuters/Contra Costa Times, 8/23).
Infection Up Among IV Drug Users, Prostitutes
HIV infection rates among intravenous drug users and prostitutes in China are rising as well, the AP/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports (AP/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/23). IV drug use accounts for 69.8% of the country's HIV infections, heterosexual contact represents 6.9% and "unknown reasons" account for 21% (Reuters/Contra Costa Times, 8/23). But surveys have shown that 5% of IV drug users were HIV-positive last year, compared to 0.04% in 1995. Infection rates among IV drug users are "much higher" in the areas "worst hit" by AIDS, the AP/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. In addition, 37% of people who inject drugs said that they share needles. "We have not effectively stemmed the epidemic of AIDS through drug use," Yin said. Infection rates among prostitutes are also on the rise, climbing from zero in 1995 to 1.32% last year. Only 9.1% of prostitutes in China say they "regularly require" their clients to use condoms (AP/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/23).
Government Acknowledges Risks of Blood Collection Methods
The Chinese government also "admitted" yesterday that "unsafe methods" of blood collection and transfusion "could cause a rapid spread" of HIV in the country, Agence France-Presse reports (Agence France-Presse, 8/22). The "clamor" for blood in China in the early 1990s resulted in the rise of "blood heads" -- dealers who pay individuals, many of whom are farmers, for their blood, and then sell the blood to hospitals or blood banks. The blood heads, however, often reuse collection needles and often mix blood from different patients, which they then reinject into a donor's veins so he or she can donate again sooner (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/12). Although the report represents "a further recognition" by the Chinese government of the role of the blood trade in the spread of HIV, the government noted in its report that the number of "confirmed" cases of HIV/AIDS linked to blood collection practices "was still relatively small." The report stated that only eight out of every 1,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in China contracted HIV through blood collection practices. China puts the official number of HIV/AIDS cases in the country at 630,000; based on this figure, 4,800 individuals would have contracted HIV from the country's blood supply, Agence France-Presse reports. However, some doctors say that in Henan province alone there are more than one million people who contracted HIV through selling blood. Professor Zheng Xiwen said that China needs to "learn lessons from other countries that have reported many HIV/AIDS cases associated with blood transfusions," adding that the country must create "qualified blood collecting stations and strict blood tests." China recently announced it has allocated a "large sum of money" toward constructing "safe blood collection and supply networks" and closing illegal blood stations (Agence France-Presse, 8/22).
China is planning to begin talks within the next two months with drug makers Merck & Co., GlaxoSmithKline and Bristol-Myers Squibb to "secure price reductions" for several AIDS drugs, AFX News reports. The three companies are the only drug makers to have received permission to sell AIDS drugs in China, Sun said. Sun added that because China does not have a public health care system, "the burden of paying for the medication had to be borne by patients themselves." He said that the Chinese government "has no plans" to pass legislation that would allow the country to import or manufacture generic versions of patented anti-AIDS drugs. And "international aid experts" say that China "is not on the list" to receive the drug discounts offered by some drug makers to countries defined as the "world's poorest" nations by the United Nations. China has so far approved Bristol-Myers' Zerit and Videx, Merck's Crixivan and Stocrin (efavirenz) and GlaxoSmithKline's Combivir and Epivir (AFX News, 8/23).