Global Fund Executive Director Warns HIV Spreading Rapidly in China, Praises Country’s HIV/AIDS Initiatives
Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, on Tuesday warned that HIV is spreading rapidly in China and contested government figures indicating that the prevalence rate has stabilized since last year, the AP/Yahoo! News Asia reports. During a meeting with Chinese officials to discuss programs financed by the Global Fund, Feachem said that the country's "official [HIV/AIDS] figures must be wrong." For more than a year, the Chinese government has said that approximately 840,000 people in the country are HIV-positive, while 80,000 are living with AIDS; however, a "chorus" of international HIV/AIDS experts estimate that the numbers are "much higher," according to the AP/Yahoo! News Asia (AP/Yahoo! News Asia, 12/7). The United Nations estimates that there are at least one million HIV-positive people in China (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/6). "There can be no chance at all that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is remaining the same. That is absolutely not possible," Feachem said. However, Feachem also "prais[ed]" the Chinese government's efforts to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic over the past 18 months, including the rolling out of public education campaigns and a pledge to provide testing and treatment at no cost for the poor, the AP/Yahoo! News Asia reports (AP/Yahoo! News Asia, 12/7). According to Feachem, the government also is moving toward establishing anti-discrimination laws in order to address the stigma surrounding the disease. "We have seen an impressive turnaround in China over the past year," Feachem said, adding, "China has realized that widespread epidemics -- such as HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria -- pose a serious threat against economic development, poverty reduction and a stable society" (Agence France-Presse, 12/7).
Despite China's recent response to the disease, the United Nations estimates that without improved prevention initiatives, the country could have as many as 10 million HIV-positive people in the country by 2010, the AP/Yahoo! News Asia reports (AP/Yahoo! News Asia, 12/7). Therefore, a "major AIDS epidemic" could be averted only through a "sustained commitment" on the part of the government to continue to increase prevention and treatment resources, Feachem said, according to a Global Fund release. He added that the government also needs to address stigma by enforcing new legislation; disseminate information about the epidemic; ensure supplies of second-line antiretroviral drugs and pediatric medications; increase access to HIV testing; and improve blood safety. "It would be fantastic if China could show the world how to contain the epidemic. However, should we fail, the consequences would not only be catastrophic for China, they would be felt all over the world," Feachem said (Global Fund release, 12/6). The AP/Yahoo! News Asia reports that the Chinese government still "harasses" HIV/AIDS advocates and that state media are permitted to report government-approved statistics only.
Huang Jiefu, China's vice health minister, "defended" the government's HIV/AIDS figures, saying that the numbers are based on a "randomized sampling method" conducted in 2003, according to the AP/Yahoo! News Asia. However, Huang said that because the ministry of health does not have a large enough staff, "we cannot say we will conduct this survey every year" (AP/Yahoo! News Asia, 12/7). However, Vice Premier Wu Yi during her meeting with Feachem said that China plans to increase HIV, TB and malaria prevention efforts (Xinhua News Agency, 12/7).
The government this week also announced that it will expand a pilot program that aims to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission, according to Xinhuanet. The program currently operates through eight projects in five provinces and will be expanded to include 85 projects in 15 provinces. Officials from China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention made the announcement during a symposium on HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. According to statistics from the ministry of health, the rate of vertical HIV transmission has increased from 0.1% to 0.6% in some regions of the country. The officials also said that the government will begin recruiting more volunteers from groups that engage in high-risk behaviors to receive HIV tests and also will recruit volunteers to encourage friends who engage in high-risk behaviors to receive testing. "A chain of high-risk population can be established in this way, which can provide more reliable data for the treatment of [HIV-positive people] and AIDS patients," Wu Zunyou of China's CDC said (Xinhuanet, 12/7).