The number of AIDS patients in China is reaching "frightening" levels, a renowned expert on the disease said Friday, a day after Beijing said it would provide free treatment to thousands of sufferers in dire financial straits. "There are about a million individuals in China who are already infected," said David Ho, executive director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York City. "There are some concerns about what the epidemic will look like 10 years from now, and the numbers might be frightening to some."
Ho was in Beijing to promote an AIDS summit Monday that will include a speech by former president Clinton and wide-ranging discussions--including topics that are traditionally taboo in China, such as care programs among gays and media coverage of AIDS. It will also feature the personal account of a doctor from central China's Henan province, where an unsanitary blood-selling industry sped HIV transmission.
The problem of HIV and AIDS "is obviously a health crisis," Ho said. "When it's a problem of that magnitude, it has to be a great concern to the leadership and, I think, to the general public."
China has been slow to disclose the extent of the disease and detained two activists who distributed a government report linking AIDS to blood-selling in Henan. But Beijing has more recently shown greater willingness to confront AIDS. Executive vice health minister Gao Qiang said Thursday that 5,000 HIV and AIDS patients with "financial difficulties" will receive free treatment through next year.