China Faces Grim AIDS Threat

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A public health official warned on Saturday that China will likely see a widespread AIDS pandemic if timely counter measures are not adopted, according to Xinhua News Agency.

Dai Zhicheng, head of the Chinese Association of STD/AIDS Prevention and director of the Ministry of Health’s National Experts' Committee on HIV/AIDS, estimated that the number of people living with HIV/AIDS in China could exceed 10 million by 2010. If properly prevented, the number could be contained within 1.5 million, he said. He made this remark at an international seminar on sexually-transmitted disease in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing.

As of June this year, China had reported 126,808 cases of HIV infection, including 28,789 confirmed AIDS patients. But these numbers underestimate actual infections, which experts believe to be as high as 840,000, with 80,000 confirmed AIDS patients, the BBC reported. Because of China's mounting epidemic, the number of people living with HIV in East Asia jumped nearly 50 percent between 2002 and 2004, according to Vital Signs 2005.

For many years, Chinese officials regarded AIDS as taboo for cultural reasons. But given the disease’s potentially debilitating effects on the national economy and on public health, the government has since reversed this stance, pouring millions of dollars into public awareness campaigns and providing free antiretroviral treatment in recent years. It has vigorously promoted the use of condoms and safe injection practices, provided care for AIDS patients, tested traditional Chinese medicine in curbing the disease, and lifted the social stigma attached to the disease.