China Is ‘Strongly Committed’ To Fighting HIV/AIDS, Official Says
Zunyu Wu, director of the National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention at China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday at the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto said the country plans to continue taking steps to control the spread of HIV in the country, AFP/Today Online reports. "The Chinese government is strongly committed to fighting HIV/AIDS," Zunyu said, adding that China by 2010 aims to have no more than 1.5 million people living with the virus (AFP/Today Online, 8/16). The Chinese government estimates that there are 650,000 HIV-positive people in the country, 75,000 of whom have developed AIDS. According to the government, in 2005 there were 70,000 new HIV cases and 25,000 AIDS-related deaths. In addition, the country's current HIV/AIDS prevalence is approximately 0.05%, according to governmental statistics (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/12). "If the [prevalence] rate increases to 4% that would still be low -- but it would mean 52 million new infections," Zunyu said. To tackle the disease, China has increased funding for HIV/AIDS programs from $20 million annually in 2002 to $100 million annually in 2005. The country also has criminalized discrimination against HIV-positive people, has passed laws to protect patient data, provides antiretroviral drugs and HIV tests at no cost and promotes HIV/AIDS awareness and condom use. In addition, the country has opened needle exchange-programs at 92 sites and plans to establish an additional 1,400 in the next three years. The country also has implemented a policy that provides heroin users with a methadone substitute. Former President Clinton on Tuesday in a speech at the conference said, "China, once in a state of denial, deserves all of our respect for turning on a dime and acknowledging the problem and approaching it systematically." Zunyu said the country still faces several obstacles to combating the disease, including limited access to HIV tests -- 145,000 of the estimated 650,000 HIV-positive people in the country have been tested -- HIV-related stigma and homophobia (AFP/Today Online, 8/16).
Experts Discuss Drug Access
Experts at the AIDS conference this week are discussing the barriers that prevent HIV-positive people from accessing antiretroviral drugs worldwide, including in China, Reuters reports. Some HIV-positive people develop resistence to first-line antiretrovirals, but second-line drugs are seven to 28 times as expensive as first-line drugs, according to Reuters. In addition, commonly-used second-line antiretrovirals, including tenofovir and Abbott Laboratories' Kaletra, are not available in China. Abbott and China are negotiating a pricing deal on Kaletra, but an agreement is not expected soon, according to Reuters. Abbott wants to sell the drug at $1,000 for a one year supply, but the Chinese government is seeking to pay no more than $400 a year, Reuters reports. An Abbott spokesperson confirmed that there are negotiations between the company and the country's Ministry of Health but gave no further details (Ee Lyn, Reuters, 8/15). The Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has provided China with a $95 million grant to provide antiretrovirals at no cost, according to the Toronto Star (Westhead, Toronto Star, 8/16).
Police Intimidation of Sex Workers Fuels Spread of HIV
In related news, advocates for commercial sex workers said sex workers from mainland China who travel to Hong Kong have stopped using condoms -- which could fuel the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV -- because they fear police intimidation, Reuters reports. Advocates said sex workers often are interrogated by police, searched, held and deported if they are found to be carrying condoms. As a result, many sex workers do not carry condoms. Sex work is legal in Hong Kong, and police do not have the authority to detain people carrying condoms, but police are intimidating and deporting sex workers from mainland China, according to advocates. "The government is contradicting itself," Loretta Wong of the Hong Kong groups AIDS Concern said, adding, "Although the health department is promoting condom use, the police are using it to prosecute sex workers." There are an estimated 300,000 sex workers in Hong Kong, about half of whom are from mainland China, according to the nongovernmental organization Zi Teng, which advocates for sex workers (Ee Lyn, Reuters, 815).
Kaisernetwork.org is serving as the official webcaster of the conference. View the guide to coverage and all webcasts, interviews and a daily video round up of conference highlights at http://www.kaisernetwork.org/aids2006.