U.S. AIDS Experts Urge China to Act Immediately to Prevent HIV Spread
U.S. AIDS experts yesterday urged the Chinese government to take "immediate action" to prevent the spread of HIV in the country, the Associated Press reports. At a one-day seminar aimed at "increasing cooperation between the United States and China in the fight against HIV/AIDS," Chinese health officials told a U.S. delegation, which included Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and officials from the CDC, NIH, HHS and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, that the number of AIDS-related deaths as well as the rate of new infections has risen throughout the country in the past year, according to the Associated Press. "We have much work to do in working together to find ways of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS," Bates Gill, an Asia expert with CSIS, said, adding that the U.S. delegates "would like to urge Chinese leaders to act preemptively now to contain the pandemic and avoid future high costs -- socially and economically." The Chinese government reports that one million people are HIV-positive, but outside experts estimate that the number is higher and warn that 10 million Chinese could be HIV-positive by 2010. While the Chinese government cites injection drug use as the leading cause of HIV transmission, "thousands" of Chinese people have been infected with HIV through the country's unsanitary blood trade practices. The government has taken several steps to combat the disease, including the mass production of low-cost antiretroviral drugs, a ban on the blood trade and earmarking $2.7 million per year in 2002-2004 in subsidies for treatment for those in the worst-hit areas (Ang, Associated Press, 1/13). Despite these measures, the government says that more than 80% of HIV-positive people may not receive medical treatment due to the concentration of AIDS cases in rural areas, the poor preparation of medical institutions and high drug costs (Xinhua News Agency, 1/14). "As the center of gravity of this pandemic shifts increasingly toward Eurasia, our visit can spur our two countries toward a more innovative and energetic response to confront the further spread of HIV/AIDS," Stephen Morrison, director of the CSIS Africa Program and director of the CSIS Task Force on Strengthening U.S. Global Leadership on HIV/AIDS, said (CSIS release, 1/10).
The Problem of Stigma
Despite strict national laws against discrimination on the basis of HIV status, many HIV-positive Chinese residents cite "intense stigma" as a bigger problem than AIDS, the New York Times reports. According to the Times, for every national law disallowing discrimination, there are local ordinances that discriminate, including one prohibiting HIV-positive people from marrying freely or another that prevents them from using public swimming pools. In addition, some doctors disclose the status of HIV-positive patients to their employers, and some police officials seize the businesses of HIV-positive people. The Times profiles seven people who have created a group home, but who have been unable to find a permanent home because they are forced from residence to residence because of their HIV-positive status (Rosenthal, New York Times, 1/14). The complete article is available online.