HIV/AIDS Could Bring Social Instability, Jeopardize Economic Growth in China, Piot Says
China's growing HIV/AIDS epidemic could trigger social instability and jeopardize the country's economic growth unless its leaders begin a "serious effort to tackle" the disease soon, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said Wednesday at a workshop in Beijing, China, on HIV/AIDS and business in Africa and Asia, Toronto's Globe and Mail reports. The workshop for the first time brought together Chinese business and government officials to discuss the epidemic. Piot said that although he has warned Chinese government officials that the epidemic could lead to "social instability and political paralysis," the "highest-ranking" leaders have not made "any strong statements" on the issue and have allowed business leaders and local officials to ignore the crisis, according to the Global and Mail. "The first thing we have to do is break the silence about AIDS," Piot said, adding that a lot of work needs to be done in China's provinces. According to Piot, China lacks statistics on the number of cases in each province because of its "deteriorating" public health system, the Globe and Mail reports. John Ruggie, a professor of international affairs at Harvard University, said that the HIV/AIDS epidemic in China has already reached the same level as the epidemic in Southern Africa in 1990 (York, Globe and Mail, 11/6). "In Africa, governments and businesses are looking back at what they should and could have done -- in China, there is still time to avert the worst-case scenario," Ruggie said (UNAIDS release, 11/5).
Business Community Role
Piot said HIV/AIDS previously was not "on the radar screen" of Chinese businesses because they were waiting for the government to "send a strong signal," the Globe and Mail reports. However, China now recognizes HIV/AIDS as a critical business issue that cannot be solved without business sector aid, Piot and Ruggie said (Globe and Mail, 11/6). Ruggie said that the government should invite multinational and domestic businesses to apply their influence to "take an active approach" in fighting HIV/AIDS, as the government "alone does not have the capacity to respond," according to VOA News (Ramirez, VOA News, 11/6). Kate Taylor, director of the Global Health Initiative of the World Economic Forum, said that countries seeking sustainable growth must control HIV/AIDS. "It's sometimes literally about the survival of a nation. China is one of the new frontiers in this epidemic, and the role of the business community is vital. It must either act now or pay later," Piot said.
Currently, experts estimate that more than one million HIV-positive people live in China. At the current rate, 10 million Chinese residents could be HIV-positive by the end of the decade, according to U.N. estimates. The "dramatic spread" of HIV in the country has already "provoked violent protests," the Globe and Mail reports (Globe and Mail, 11/6). Hundreds of policemen in June raided the Chinese village of Xiongqiao in rural Henan province 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). In addition, a report issued in September by Human Rights Watch concluded that China is still "in denial" about HIV/AIDS, the Globe and Mail reports (Globe and Mail, 11/6). The 94-page report, titled "Locked Doors: The Human Rights of People Living with HIV/AIDS in China," was based on more than 30 interviews with HIV-positive people, police officers, drug users and outreach workers in Beijing, Hong Kong and Yunnan province. The report found HIV prevalence rates among people who participated in a government-sponsored blood collection scheme to be between 4% and 40% across seven Chinese provinces, which have a combined total population of 420 million people. The report also said that the number of HIV-positive people is much higher than the one million cases that Beijing officially acknowledges and found that HIV-positive people face discriminatory laws on national and local levels and that they may also lack access to health care services and information on how to prevent HIV transmission (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/5).