HIV in China has
spread beyond high-risk groups such as injection-drug
users, prostitutes, and gay men, and the country is becoming
"like Africa" in how the virus is transmitted, a
senior health official says.
"There are 190
new HIV infections every day...and in some
high-prevalence areas, nearly 1% of pregnant women are
infected," said Hao Yang, deputy director general of
the bureau of diseases prevention and control at the
Ministry of Health. "That is a very high percentage.
It is a generalized epidemic," he told Reuters in an
"We're now like
Africa. Last year we found that 48% of those who were
newly infected contracted the disease from sex, so it's not
a disease that afflicts only high-risk groups."
Africa has the
world's highest number of HIV/AIDS sufferers, and the
virus is spread mostly through heterosexual sex.
To combat the
problem, it is now mandatory for all entertainment spots in
China to make condoms available, and methadone clinics have
mushroomed all over the country to help drug addicts
kick the habit.
Hao said that for
China's 650,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, first-line
drugs had managed to prolong lives, but some sufferers were
beginning to develop resistance, partly because they
are unaware of the importance of keeping to strict
rapidly, and patients who fail to take antiretroviral drugs
in the right amounts or at the right time will soon develop
resistance--something that is happening all too
frequently in China, activists say.
"So many patients
are taking the drugs haphazardly. Doctors have to
spend time to explain to patients how crucial it is to keep
to the regimens if they want to preserve their lives,"
said Meng Lin, an AIDS activist in Beijing.
He added that
some 60 village doctors gathered in Beijing this week to
listen to the needs of people living with HIV at a forum
organized by the World Health Organization.
People on HIV
drugs tend to develop resistance after some years and would
need "second line" medicines, but there are very few of
these stronger medicines available in China. Often
people with HIV in China find themselves having to
choose between putting up with the awful side effects
of these drugs or dying.
"We have to
prepare for this. We are now discussing [it] with foreign
companies. In a short time, we will sign some accords with
these companies to bring in these drugs," Hao said.
talking with companies such as Abbott and Gilead Sciences
Inc. to bring in second-line drugs, Hao said. Abbott
Laboratories Inc. makes a key second-line drug called
Abbott are now hammering out the price, which Hao said was
still too high for China, and he called on the company to
pay heed to its "social responsibility."
free HIV drugs for its citizens, but nongovernmental
groups say only a very few benefit from that policy.
HIV/AIDS became a
major headache for China in the 1980s and 1990s, when
hundreds of thousands of impoverished farmers became
infected through botched blood-selling schemes.
Although this practice has since been stopped, it has
left behind some 75,000 orphans, some of whom are
infected with HIV. Those who aren't will probably live under
a long, dark shadow of stigma for the rest of their