China Facing ‘Catastrophic’ AIDS Epidemic, U.N. Report Says
The United Nations yesterday issued a report stating that China's AIDS epidemic could very soon become "a catastrophe that could result in unimaginable human suffering" unless the government acts now to stem the spread of the virus, the Asian Wall Street Journal reports. The 89-page report, titled "HIV/AIDS: China's Titanic Peril," was issued by eight U.N. agencies as a "warning" to the Chinese government that HIV is spreading rapidly across the country. The report estimates that China had 800,000 to 1.5 million people infected with HIV last year and predicts that the country could have the largest HIV-positive population in the world "in the near future" (Chang, Asian Wall Street Journal, 6/28). According to the report, 10 million Chinese could be infected with HIV by the end of the decade as the disease spreads from "hard-hit groups," such as injection drug users and sex workers, into the general population (Pan, Washington Post, 6/28). "Indeed, we are now witnessing the unfolding of an HIV/AIDS epidemic of proportions beyond belief," the report states (Page, Reuters Health, 6/27).
The report levied "unusually stiff criticism" on the Chinese government for its response to the epidemic, comparing Chinese leaders to officers aboard the Titanic who "refused to believe the ship was sinking until it was too late," the Washington Post reports. The report "blamed" China's response to HIV/AIDS on "a lack of commitment by officials at all levels of government, 'dramatically insufficient' funding for AIDS prevention programs and a health care system that has all but collapsed in the Chinese countryside," the Washington Post reports. The report also noted that local laws sometimes "fueled" discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS (Washington Post, 6/28). The report also states that the Chinese government's five-year plan to fight HIV/AIDS "offers no clear guidance on how to achieve its goals" (Asian Wall Street Journal, 6/28). But U.N. officials also "praise[d]" several of the Chinese government's efforts to contain the spread of the virus, noting that the country held its first international conference on HIV/AIDS last year (Rosenthal, New York Times, 6/28). The report suggests that the government allow needle-exchange and methadone treatment programs for injection drug users, develop sex education programs that are targeted at young people, minorities and other groups, promote open communication about the disease and "intensively" promote condom use (Asian Wall Street Journal, 6/28).
Chinese Officials Reject Report
Chinese officials today "rejected" the U.N. report and said that its predictions regarding the number of potential future HIV infections in China are "inaccurate," the Associated Press reports. "I think the information they have is not sufficient and cannot be fully trusted," Sun Xinhua, division chief of the Chinese Ministry of Health's epidemiology department, said. Wang Liji, division chief of the health ministry's department of international cooperation, said that the ministry has not seen a copy of the report, but he added that the U.N. officials viewed China's HIV/AIDS epidemic "only from their own angle" (Ang, Associated Press, 6/28). During the release of the report, one Chinese health official challenged the comparison of the government to the crew of the Titanic and asked "whether the United Nations intended to stand by and watch China sink like the ship." U.N. officials replied that the metaphor was intended to emphasize that the country could still avert a "disaster" (Washington Post, 6/28). The U.N. report can be viewed online.
An audio file of an "NPR News" report on the U.N. study is available online (Winfield-Hayes, "NPR News," 6/27).
An audio file of a report on the study from PRI's "The World" is available online (Couzin, "The World," PRI, 6/28).