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Experts warn Beijing of growing AIDS threat
January 26, 2006; Page A9
BEIJING -- China's AIDS epidemic is among the fastest-growing in the world and is likely to spread even more quickly as it moves into the mainstream population, international health officials warned.
About 70,000 Chinese were infected last year with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. That brings the estimated number of people in China with HIV to 650,000, according to a report jointly released yesterday in Beijing by the Chinese Ministry of Health, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS and the World Health Organization.
The number of infections is growing at about 10% annually, similar to the rates in India and Russia -- two other nations where international health authorities worry AIDS could quickly spread. Last year, 25,000 people died in China from complications related to AIDS. The report said the death rate is rising, though it didn't give a figure for previous years.
"Make no mistake, China's AIDS epidemic is growing," Henk Bekedam, WHO's representative in China, said at a news conference.
He cautioned that much more work needs to be done in raising public awareness and getting more people to volunteer for AIDS testing. Only about one-quarter of all victims know they are infected, according to the report.
The report cautioned that some government officials aren't taking the threat of AIDS seriously and the distribution of free care and drugs to victims is patchy. In particular, treating drug addicts poses a challenge, said Vice Health Minister Wang Longde.
Free condom distribution should be increased and treatment centers opened in more places, the report said. About 80% of HIV infections in China are linked to intravenous drug use and commercial sex, it said.
According to the report, national infection levels are relatively low at 0.05%. But in some areas HIV rates among pregnant women are higher than 1%, which meets the U.N. definition for a generalized epidemic.
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