Spread of HIV/AIDS Threatens China, India, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson Says in Beijing
If measures are not undertaken to quell the "rapid spread" of HIV/AIDS in China and India, the disease may become uncontainable, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said in Beijing on Sunday, the AP/Albany Times Union reports. After brief meetings with Chinese health officials, including Executive Vice Health Minister Gao Qiang, Thompson urged more public dialogue about HIV/AIDS, more coordination among health agencies in China and better enforcement of policies to prevent HIV/AIDS. "We are worried that if the epidemic grows in India and China like it has in sub-Saharan Africa, it may be then too late to ever contain it or be able to hopefully some day defeat it with a vaccine and a cure," Thompson said (Bodeen, AP/Albany Times Union, 10/19). Experts estimate that more than one million HIV-positive people live in China, but the number of cases reported may be lower than the actual number of actual cases (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/17). India has an estimated 4.5 million people with HIV/AIDS.
CDC Program in China
Thompson on Sunday also announced that the CDC will open a new AIDS office in China on Tuesday (AP/Albany Times Union, 10/19). China's program is the newest of the 25 country programs set up by the CDC under its Global AIDS Program, which was established three years ago (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/15). Thompson said that HHS also plans to station an attache at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing in January (AP/Albany Times Union, 10/19). Thompson said, "All of these things portend that there is going to be much more activity in this fight against AIDS here in China, which is absolutely necessary" (Reuters, 10/19). He also said that the "best thing" the Chinese government could do would be to "publicize AIDS prevention and education and at the highest echelons ... talk more of the prevention, treatment and control of HIV/AIDS" (Agence France-Presse, 10/19). Although national efforts have strengthened, the AP/Times Union reports that local Chinese officials "continue to cover up" HIV/AIDS incidence and "silence calls for more awareness." Still, Thompson said Chinese officials have been "very responsive" in talks, adding that there has been "a lot of positive progress over the past few months" regarding HIV/AIDS (AP/Albany Times Union, 10/19).
China Releases Ma Shiwen
Chinese authorities last week -- a few days before Thompson's visit -- "quietly" released Ma Shiwen, deputy director for disease control at the Henan Provincial Health Department, who had been held by the government for allegedly leaking documents about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the province, the Financial Times reports (Dickie, Financial Times, 10/20). Chinese officials in August arrested Ma, for allegedly leaking documents about a government-sponsored blood collection scandal that spread HIV in the province to the HIV/AIDS advocacy group Aizhi Action, according to Aizhi Action Director Wan Yanhai. The Chinese government initially tried to cover up the blood-selling scandal when it was reported by Chinese papers in 2000. Ma's arrest was at least the second legal action involving the report. Wan last year was released after being held for nearly one month by state security agents who claimed that he leaked official secrets by distributing the same report. Ma earlier this year had been arrested and released for the same charges (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/7). Although people familiar with the case say it is not clear why Ma has been released, some advocates said that the situation had been "drawing increasing international attention" and could "complicat[e]" the country's bid for Global Fund grants, according to the Times (Financial Times, 10/20). The Global Fund last week approved China's application and the country will receive more than $32 million over two years to fight HIV/AIDS (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/17).