China Asks For CDC’s Assistance in Fighting HIV/AIDS Epidemic; Country Could Have 20 Million HIV-Positive Citizens by 2010
The Chinese government has asked the CDC for help in addressing its HIV/AIDS epidemic, marking "the first time such a prominent health organization has openly and critically discussed China's AIDS problem," the New York Times reports. China has recently admitted that its HIV epidemic is "rapidly escalating," and Dr. Helene Gayle, director of the CDC's National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention, said that if left unchecked, HIV is poised to "quickly overwhelm" China's "fragile" health system, estimating that the country could have 20 million HIV-positive citizens by 2010. Gayle and other CDC officials traveled to China as part of an "HIV assessment team" invited by the Chinese government and are discussing "cooperation" in areas such as HIV/AIDS education, statistical tracking and the development of treatment strategies for HIV-positive people. The Times reports that the Chinese government "has generally treated [AIDS] as an embarrassment to be covered up," but Gayle said that Chinese leaders appear "ready to confront HIV" because the problem has become "too serious to ignore." Gayle said that Chinese officials' concern about and commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS is "growing," and they are "eager for cooperation" in fighting the epidemic. But she noted that "no commitments had been made" between the CDC and the Chinese government.
HIV Ready to Move Into General Population
Gayle warned that while HIV in China is generally centered among risk groups such as prostitutes, intravenous drug users and those who were exposed to unsafe blood collection and transfusion procedures, the virus is "poised to enter the general population," mainly through unprotected sex. For example, Gayle said, the rate of STD infections has been increasing by more than 20% annually in China, suggesting that most Chinese do not use condoms during sex. In addition, some studies have shown that few Chinese understand how HIV is transmitted and therefore do not protect themselves.
Government-Sponsored Programs Needed
Gayle added that because of the size of China's population, even "a small percentage" of HIV infections could lead to a "staggering problem" (Rosenthal, New York Times, 8/31). She said that more HIV education is needed for health care workers and that the "small-scale pilot projects" the country has created to fight the disease are not sufficient to stop it from spreading. Gayle said that the Chinese government should focus on incorporating such programs into its larger health care system and that different ministries should coordinate their efforts to fight the disease. But China cannot delay its anti-AIDS efforts, she said, adding, "There is a window of opportunity to keep [HIV] from becoming a generalized epidemic. ... I don't think it's a decade. I think we're talking about a few years" (Chang, Wall Street Journal, 8/31).