Chinese Government To Provide Free HIV/AIDS Testing, Treatment
The Chinese government soon will begin providing free HIV/AIDS treatment to people in rural areas and to poor people in urban areas, according to a joint statement released on Tuesday by the country's ministries of health and finance, China Daily reports (China Daily, 4/14). The Chinese government estimates that there are 840,000 HIV-positive people in the country and that 80,000 people have AIDS; however, some experts believe that those figures are underestimates. The United Nations estimates that there are at least one million HIV-positive people in China and that the number could grow to 20 million people by 2010 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/9). The government in July 2003 promised to provide poor, HIV-positive people with free medical treatment; to date, about 6,000 patients have received treatment, Hao Yang, director of the HIV/AIDS division of the health ministry, said. The ministerial document outlines the treatment program, saying that patients in rural areas or patients in urban areas who have "economic difficulties and are not covered by any basic medical insurance" will be eligible for the medication, according to China Daily. About 70% of China's HIV-positive residents live in rural areas, experts say. Patients will be required to show identification documents and proof of rural residency or economic difficulty when applying for treatment, and health authorities have promised to take measures to ensure the privacy of individuals seeking care, Hao said. In addition, the government will provide drugs to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission and treat AIDS-related diseases, including tuberculosis (China Daily, 4/14). The document did not specify the income level required for free treatment, according to the AP/Miami Herald.
HIV testing and counseling services also will be available at no cost, according to the state-run China News Service, the AP/Herald reports. The News Service did not specify the number of people expected to access the services or how much the country expects to spend on the services, according to the AP/Herald. HIV tests previously were available only in centers that catered to sex workers and injection drug users. However, health officials now encourage pregnant women and other members of the public to undergo testing, the AP/Herald reports (Hoo, AP/Miami Herald, 4/14). Officials estimate that only about 10% of the country's HIV-positive people know they have the virus. "The launch of the new document outlining the cost-free treatment policy is expected to encourage more HIV/AIDS people to come out and ask for free medical treatment," Hao said (China Daily, 4/14). However, "it remains to be seen whether China's underfunded health system will be able to cope with a surge in the demand for tests or treatment," London's Guardian reports. AIDS advocate Zhou Xingping said, "Our government has a habit of introducing excellent-sounding policies on public health. But they are largely intended for the consumption of an international audience. When it comes to implementation, it is often the case that deeds do not match words" (Watts, Guardian, 4/15).