China Taking HIV/AIDS Epidemic More Seriously, Challenges Remain, Global HIV/AIDS Advocates Say
China has taken "cautious steps" forward in fighting HIV/AIDS, including providing no-cost HIV/AIDS-related services and implementing HIV prevention measures, some global HIV/AIDS advocates said recently, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. China's "Four Frees and One Care" program provides no-cost HIV testing, antiretroviral drugs to HIV-positive rural residents, medications for pregnant women, economic assistance for HIV-positive people and education for children who have lost parents to AIDS-related illnesses. The country also has created 91 needle-exchange programs, opened 128 methadone clinics, subsidized condom access for local programs targeting commercial sex workers and is becoming "one of the major suppliers of the raw materials" used in antiretrovirals, according to the Chronicle. Many health officials say the 2003 SARS outbreak in China brought the country "out of isolation on medical matters," including HIV/AIDS. "SARS loosened them up," Eric Goosby, president of the Pangaea Global AIDS Foundation, said, adding, "They found they could reveal a vulnerability and not get criticized for it." A November 2003 visit to China by former President Bill Clinton during which he hugged Song Penfei, an HIV-positive man, at a news conference also has been "credited for spurring China's leaders on AIDS," according to the Chronicle. UNAIDS has said the provision of the Four Frees and One Care program has been "relatively poor" in some rural areas, and only 20,000 of the 75,000 registered HIV-positive people are being provided with antiretrovirals, the Chronicle reports. In addition, China faces the "unique HIV problem" of dealing with tens of thousands of people who in the early 1990s contracted the virus through the "unscrupulous practices of illegal blood sales", as well as a continued "aversion to bad press and media crusades for government accountability" at the provincial level, according to the Chronicle. The country also battles heroin addiction, which is a "significant problem for China, where drug use is linked to 45% of the country's HIV cases," the Chronicle reports. Although China's latest official estimate that 650,000 HIV-positive people live in the country might be a "more accurate representation" of the epidemic than the previous estimate of 840,000, "surveillance remains uneven, and testing is inadequate," the Chronicle reports. Nearly 80% of HIV-positive people in China do not know their status, according to the Chronicle (Russell, San Francisco Chronicle. 7/30).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.