China Turning Attention From Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome To AIDS
The Chinese government is beginning to show signs that it is turning its attention to fighting HIV/AIDS now that the last 12 patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, have been declared free of the virus, the Wall Street Journal reports. Approximately one million Chinese are HIV-positive, and officials have predicted that the number of HIV-positive individuals could reach 10 million by 2010. Although China lacks a national program to treat and prevent HIV/AIDS, the health ministry recently requested a doubling of its annual AIDS budget, which is currently $12.5 million. The Journal says that "[t]o some extent, China is already moving ahead on AIDS," describing the following programs and initiatives:
- A pilot program in 50 counties in seven central Chinese provinces that provides 4,000 HIV/AIDS patients with free domestically produced antiretroviral drugs;
- An HIV/AIDS training program for 100 doctors who care for patients at the provincial and county level. The government aims to eventually train 360 provincial-level and 200 county-level doctors to treat HIV-positive individuals; and
- HIV/AIDS education and HIV testing programs for people at high risk for contracting HIV.
The Chinese government has also applied to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for a $98 million grant to begin new HIV/AIDS programs and expand existing ones. Luc Van Leemput of Doctors Without Borders said that HIV/AIDS programs in China will benefit from a "positive snowball effect" from China's experience with SARS. However, if factors that helped spread SARS -- denial of the infection, lack of access to affordable health care and a social stigma surrounding the disease -- persist with China's approach to HIV/AIDS, the Chinese government could miss its "window of opportunity" to combat the growing epidemic, the Journal reports (Chang, Wall Street Journal, 8/4).
Violence, Harassment Could Tarnish Progress on AIDS
According to the Long Island Newsday, recent incidents of violence and harassment aimed at HIV-positive people in China "appear to defy the hope that arose during the country's SARS crisis, as several political leaders and opinion makers called for across-the-board change in how the nation deals with health issues, particularly HIV" (Garrett, Long Island Newsday, 4/3). In one incident, hundreds of police officers on June 22 raided the Chinese village of Xiongqiao in the rural province of Henan, moving through homes, physically abusing residents and arresting 13 people in what villagers said was a response to recent protests calling for better access to medical care, including HIV/AIDS treatment (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/8). "Many people thought things would get better after SARS," Chinese AIDS advocate Wan Yanhai said in an interview with Newsday last week. He added, "But it hasn't happened" (Long Island Newsday, 8/3). Wan, who first exposed information about the unsafe blood selling practices in Henan that led to many rural Chinese becoming HIV-positive, was detained by government officials in August 2002 and was not released until September 2002 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/13/02). Last week, a coalition of leading AIDS researchers and advocates sent a letter to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, stating, "The harassment of people with HIV/AIDS and their advocates diminishes China's ability to halt its AIDS epidemic, which ... threatens to rival the epidemics in Africa and India in the near future." While a "well-funded" campaign to identify the source of SARS continues in China, HIV research "occupies low prestige," and some laboratories originally dedicated to HIV research have switched to SARS research, according to Newsday. "I don't think our government will treat AIDS as it did SARS," Wan said, adding, "SARS attacked the capital city and affected political stability. AIDS is chronic, though severe" (Long Island Newsday, 8/3).