Chinese Government Estimates One Million Residents Have HIV/AIDS
There are approximately one million HIV-positive people in China today, but that number could rise as high as 10 million in the next decade if nothing is done to prevent the disease, Qi Xiaoqiu, head of the Department of Disease Control of the Ministry of Health, said today in "an unusually frank official assessment" of the situation, Agence France-Presse reports. "It's very difficult to get the exact number, but we can tell you that AIDS is at a very dangerous stage in China and on the verge of becoming an epidemic," Qi said, adding, "If the AIDS epidemic is not dealt with efficiently, by the year 2010 there is the likelihood of more than 10 million HIV or AIDS patients in China." Despite Qi's warning, official government figures show that the incidence rate of HIV is falling, according to Agence France-Presse. The late-June HIV estimate released by Qi shows that the number of people with HIV/AIDS has risen about 17% over the past six months. Last year's overall growth rate was as high as 58%, Agence France-Presse reports. Qi warned, "Even if the percentage is quite low, it's still becoming a serious problem now in China" (Harmsen, Agence France-Presse, 9/6).
According to Qi, the Chinese government may be forced to break patents on antiretroviral drugs if foreign drug makers do not agree to additional price cuts by early next year. BBC News reports Qi said that while negotiations with drug makers are ongoing, an agreement must be reached within the next few months. "(Otherwise) we will have to take the other choice. We cannot afford to wait any longer," he added. China has been in talks "for months" with GlaxoSmithKline, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck, attempting to convince the companies to cut prices beyond the 80% already agreed upon this year. Qi said, "We believe that any government, when facing a dilemma between profit and the life and health of its people, should choose to protect the lives and health of its people" (BBC News, 9/6). PRI's "Marketplace" today reports that "only about 100" of the country's approximately 200,000 AIDS patients currently receive combination therapies, which are mostly free drugs donated from overseas. Although drug prices have dropped by two-thirds, the annual cost of $3,600 is "far more than most patients earn," PRI reports (Ford, "Marketplace," PRI, 9/6).
The full segment is available online in RealPlayer Audio.