Participants Drop Out of Chinese Antiretroviral Distribution Program Becuse of Side Effects, Lack of Medical Staff
China three months ago began providing free antiretroviral drugs to thousands of HIV-positive people who contracted the disease through unsafe medical practices at government-sponsored blood-collection stations, but the drugs' side effects and a lack of qualified medical staff have led many people to drop out of the program, experts said yesterday, Agence France-Presse reports (Sui, Agence France-Presse, 7/15). According to the United Nations, China had between 800,000 and 1.5 million HIV-positive people as of December 2001, and the number could grow to 10 million by 2010 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/15). The Chinese government earlier this year began producing and distributing generic versions of antiretroviral drugs, including zidovudine, didanosine and stavudine, along with two imported brand-name drugs -- Stocrin and Combivir -- to HIV-positive people in the provinces of Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Anhui and Sichuan. An estimated 200 people are receiving drugs in Anhui, 420 in Hubei, 61 in Sichuan and a program was just launched to distribute the drugs in Hunan. The Henan program, which started in early April, has distributed drugs to about 2,550 people in Shangcai county, 200 in Xincai county and 120 in Queshan county.
However, in Henan's Shangcai county, 327 out of the 2,550 people in the program have discontinued their treatment, Zhang Fujie, head of the program in China's Center for Disease Control, said. An unnamed U.S.-based AIDS worker said that the drugs being distributed are generic versions of older antiretroviral drugs, which are "not as effective and ... have side effects ... so serious that a lot of people are dropping out." Zhang said, "Domestically made medicine is not the best, but we're talking about how to help the largest number of people under scarce resources." Zhang added that the biggest problem is the lack of qualified doctors available to help patients adhere to the drug regimen. The country has applied for a grant from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to fund HIV/AIDS treatment training for Chinese doctors. Zhang and international AIDS workers however fear that a recent police raid on HIV-positive people in a rural village could hurt their chances of the grant being approved (Agence France-Presse, 7/15). Hundreds of policemen on June 22 raided the Chinese village of Xiongqiao in Henan province, in what villagers said was a response to recent protests calling for better access to medical care, including HIV/AIDS treatment. Villagers said that the raid was in response to protests earlier that month, in which as many as 200 villagers went to government offices demanding medical coupons for treatment and the construction of a hospital for which higher level government officials were rumored to have already allotted money (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/8).