Former President Clinton Lauds Chinese Plan To Provide Low-Income AIDS Patients With Free Antiretroviral Drugs
Former President Bill Clinton on Monday at a symposium on HIV/AIDS and SARS at Tsinghua University in Beijing lauded the Chinese government's decision to provide free antiretroviral drugs to low-income HIV/AIDS patients next year, the AP/MSNBC.com reports (AP/MSNBC.com, 11/10). Chinese Executive Deputy Health Minister Gao Qiang in a speech last week said that the government has begun to provide free HIV/AIDS drugs to low-income residents and will expand the program in 2004 to ensure that every low-income HIV-positive person in the country has medical care, the New York Times reports. By the end of 2003, about 5,000 low-income people with HIV/AIDS will receive free treatment, according to Gao (Yardley, New York Times, 11/8). Clinton said that it is "unconscionable" that people living with HIV are "dying because they couldn't pay for treatment," according to the AP/MSNBC.com. He said, "This medicine issue is an international scandal. Money shouldn't determine who lives and dies from AIDS" (AP/MSNBC.com, 11/10). Clinton said that although China is "moving in a positive direction," the severity of the epidemic "could blunt a lot of [China's] progress, especially if the burden falls most heavily on young people" (Ruwitch, Reuters, 11/10). He called on the Chinese public and the government to increase HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention education, Kyodo News reports. Clinton said, "I hope these cheaper drugs can be more available in Asia, but I know the real heroes are people in this country who won't let (attention to AIDS) go away" (Kyodo News, 11/10).
Gao's speech "confirmed anecdotal reports" of free antiretroviral drug distribution in the central provinces and demonstrated a "new, more proactive attitude toward AIDS taken by China's senior leaders," according to the New York Times. Health officials praised the effort, but said that the government has not defined who will be eligible for free care, the New York Times reports. Henk Bekedam, the World Health Organization representative in Beijing, said, "China has made some major steps forward in the fight against HIV," but he added, "[W]e are not there yet." Dr. Cheng Feng, director of the China office of Family Health International, said that the program lacks a "clear definition of who are poor people" (New York Times, 11/8).
Chinese AIDS Initiative
The Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center on Monday at the summit is scheduled to launch the Chinese AIDS Initiative, a partnership to promote a "comprehensive approach" to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in China, according to an ADARC release. CAI is a partnership among ADARC, Tsinghua University, the Yale-China Association, the Brookings Institution, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Wuhan University, provincial bureaus of health, a network of nongovernmental organizations and others. The initiative will encourage advocacy, HIV/AIDS testing and counseling, prevention training for health care providers, the development of medical infrastructure, vaccine preparedness, education and legal and human rights (ADARC release, 11/6). ADARC Executive Director Dr. David Ho said, "This epidemic is not the sole responsibility of biomedical scientists and of health officials. This health challenge must come to the fore in the mind of every Chinese citizen" (Reuters, 11/10). Ho added, "A large and comprehensive societal response is in order" because "[i]f there is no health, there is no prosperity" (AP/MSNBC.com, 11/10).
Gao last week said that a survey conducted jointly by China, WHO and UNAIDS shows that there are 840,000 HIV-positive people and 80,000 people with AIDS living in the country (Xinhua News Agency, 11/6). He added that about 150,000 people in China have died from AIDS-related diseases since 1985 and the "main channels of infection" between 1993 and 1995 were unsanitary blood transfusions in Anhui and Henan provinces, AFX Asia reports (AFX Asia, 11/7). Other experts estimate that more than one million HIV-positive people live in China (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/20). Gao said that official figures are lower than other estimates because many AIDS organizations use data that do not differentiate between HIV and AIDS (Xinhua News Agency, 11/6).
SARS Methods May Be Applicable to AIDS
In other news, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said that disease tracking and reporting systems used during China's SARS outbreak could be applied to the AIDS epidemic, the AP/Virginian-Pilot reports. "Through openness, firstly, and through strong leadership ... the government was able to set up a system" to counter SARS infections, Piot said, adding that the Chinese government has "shown a greater willingness to fight [AIDS] and presented concrete plans to prevent its spread," according to the AP/Pilot (Hoo, AP/Virginian-Pilot, 11/7).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Monday discussed with NPR's Rob Gifford China's announcement of free HIV/AIDS treatment and Clinton and Ho's statements at the summit. The segment includes comments from Clinton (Gifford, "Morning Edition," NPR, 11/10). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer.
Additional information on AIDS in China is available online from kaisernetwork.org's Issue Spotlight on AIDS.