Handshake highlights fight against AIDS

Handshake highlights fight against AIDS
In an unprecedented move, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao shook hands and chatted with three AIDS patients at a hospital in Beijing Monday, revealing his government's determination to fight the disease and show more concern for its victims.

"You shall have the confidence to overcome the disease, for you will have love and care from the entire society," said Wen, who visited the AIDS wards at the Beijing Ditan Hospital to mark the World AIDS Day.

Wen, who assumed office early this year, is believed to become China's first head of government to have a face-to-face meeting with some AIDS patients, and his handshaking move can be called bold and surprising in a country where many still believe one can contract AIDS by simply sharing a meal with HIV carriers.

"We congratulate Premier Wen, who has made a bold step to show the government's commitment to controlling the AIDS epidemic and decreasing the stigma and discrimination against AIDS patients and HIV carriers," hailed Koen Vanormelingen, chief of the Health and Nutrition Section of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Office for China.

Chinese premier shakes hands, has vis-a-vis conversation with AIDS patients
In an earlier interview with Xinhua, Vanormelingen had spoken of his perception that stigma and discrimination formed the main barrier to AIDS prevention in this world's most populous nation.

According to the Ministry of Health, China now has about 840,000 HIV-positive people and 80,000 AIDS patients. Some estimates warned that the country's HIV/AIDS-infected population could grow to 10 million to 20 million by 2010.

In China and many other parts of Asia, social and cultural discrimination has prevented people from wanting to know more about AIDS and has made life extremely difficult for people infected with HIV/AIDS, experts say.

A recent survey conducted in China by Futures Group Europe and Horizon Market Research showed that nearly 20 percent of the 3,968respondents had never heard of AIDS, while only 66 percent knew it was impossible to contract HIV by sharing a meal.

A whopping 77.2 percent of the surveyed didn't agree that an HIV infected colleague should be allowed to continue to work.

"Some people's terrible ignorance about AIDS hurts me," said LiXiang, 27, who was infected with AIDS in a blood transfusion when he was a high school student.

"We just want to find a fair and normal life for ourselves," said Li, who initiated the Beijing-based Mangrove Support Group Project, aiming to provide care and support for people living withHIV/AIDS.

HIV/AIDS is not only a health issue, but a social one, said Vanormelingen, adding that stigma and discrimination may push the HIV-affected group to crime and other behavior which destabilizes society.

A burglary ring busted by police in Hangzhou, capital of east China's prosperous coastal province of Zhejiang, made the headlines of many newspapers, as half of the 26-member gang were found to be either HIV positive or suffering from AIDS. The thieves had viewed their fatal disease as an effective means of self-protection as Chinese laws prohibit long-time detention of patients with serious diseases.

Since a new generation of Chinese leaders took over the reins of the State about a year ago, they have frequently stressed the importance of caring for those "socially vulnerable groups", such as the urban job losers, rural migrant workers and of course, the AIDS victims.

"A proper attitude toward the AIDS patients must have the following elements: love, care, assistance, equality and non-discrimination," Wen told a roomful of health workers and officials during his visit to the AIDS hospital.

Wearing a red ribbon, a symbol of care for AIDS patients, the premier shook hands with three patients one by one, asking them about their treatment, family life and their kids' education.

"AIDS can be prevented and treated," Wen said, urging the medical staff to provide a better service for AIDS patients.

Wen also urged governments at all levels to strengthen epidemic supervision and provide free anti-AIDS treatment, free anonymous tests and free education for AIDS patients' orphans. He said China would take joint efforts with the international society in AIDS prevention and treatment.

In early November, the Ministry of Health announced its plan to offer free medical treatment to those impoverished farmers as well as urban needy infected with HIV/AIDS. The first 5,000 beneficiaries will start receiving treatment before the end of the year.

"The AIDS patients finally see hope. With much more attention from the new leaders, the spread of AIDS will surely be checked," Cheng Xiangyang, a farmer in central China's Henan Province whose wife is an HIV carrier, told Xinhua over the phone after hearing about the Premier's visit.

Ray Yip, director of the China-US AIDS Prevention and Care Project, said that apart from showing the government's strong commitment to fighting AIDS, Wen's handshake move also delivered a significant message to the Chinese society.

"I personally see this as a key turning point in China's AIDS/HIV prevention and treatment," he added.

Handshake highlights fight against AIDS
Wen Jiabao became the first premier in China to shake hands with HIV/AIDS patients Monday in Beijing, highlighting the central government's determination to fight the increasing epidemic.

He asked governments at various levels to make concerted efforts to conduct better prevention and control work concerning HIV/AIDS, including widening public education on the afflictions, stronger epidemic surveillance, more investment for medical treatment and strengthening international co-operation.

More investment from various levels of governments will be used to provide free treatment for low-level AIDS patients, free HIV testing and support for the education of orphans left behind by victims of the afflictions, Wen said.

Wen and Vice-Premier Wu Yi, who is also the health minister of China, visited Ditan Hospital, a well-known hospital throughout China for dealing with infectious disease cases, and expressed their sympathies to patients there Monday, which was World AIDS Day.

Greater attention from top leaders of the central government and a stronger leading headquarters concerning HIV/AIDS management have been proposed by domestic and overseas experts as the most urgent and effective way for China to tackle the epidemic.

Since last year, the central government has begun investing roughly 122 million yuan (US$15 million) annually in HIV/AIDS prevention and control. And the total cost from various local governments has reached 200 million yuan (US$24 million) a year, said Hao Yang, a HIV/AIDS division chief of the Disease Control Department of the Ministry of Health.

However, with such an investment, most of which will be used in prevention campaigns, it is hard to provide the necessary medical treatment for patients.

The number of patients being diagnosed with AIDS and the number of HIV carriers who are developing into AIDS cases are both on the rise, Hao added.

Experts have estimated that about 70 per cent of the country's AIDS patients do not have access to necessary treatment at the moment.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic has not been effectively controlled among what is considered the nation's high-risk population and it has started to spread to the general public, according to a joint assessment of HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care in China, which was issued Monday.

More spread possible
The current HIV/AIDS epidemic in China overall is considered to have a low prevalence nationally, while high prevalence clusters continue to increase at a rapid rate.

As well, some regions in China are entering a period where the number of AIDS infections and related deaths are escalating.

Meanwhile, HIV risk factors exist throughout the nation, so there is a good chance for the epidemic to become more widespread. And in areas with high HIV figures, HIV and AIDS have brought about different degrees of social and economic impacts and burdens.

This is the second time that the Chinese Government and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) have jointly issued such an assessment.

The first UN Theme Group-Ministry of Health joint assessment report "China Responds to AIDS'' was published in 1997, said Ma Xiaowei, deputy minister of health said Monday at the launching ceremony of the 2003 edition.

Ma added that the HIV/AIDS epidemic has seen considerable change since the first report.

The epidemic in China has gone through three phases including entry (1985-1988), spreading (1989-1994) and expansion phases (1995-present), the assessment said.

In recent years, the epidemic has become more serious. By June of this year, the accumulated number of reported HIV cases in the whole country was 45,092, of which 3,532 were AIDS patients, with 1,800 deaths on record.

According to the latest estimates by Chinese health authorities, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS, currently there are 840,000 HIV/AIDS sufferers which includes 80,000 AIDS patients.

If nothing is done to stem HIV prevention, some 10 million Chinese citizens may be infected by 2010, experts have warned.

Data from the national HIV surveillance system indicates that about 45 per cent of HIV/AIDS cases are from injecting drug use, 31 per cent are sex-related and about 24 per cent are from infected blood products, said the WHO Monday.

The deadly epidemic has spread to all of China's provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities as of 1999.

But the status of HIV/AIDS is quite different in various areas. The epidemic is more severe in certain areas and among specific populations, including drug users and sex workers.

For example, in 2002, Yunnan, Xinjiang, Guangxi, Sichuan, Henan and Guangdong all had over 1,000 reported HIV infections and estimated number of infections of more than 40,000 each, the assessment noted.

There has been a significant increase in the number of the AIDS patients and related deaths, especially in recent years. From 1985 to 2000, the cumulative number of AIDS cases reported was 880, with 496 related deaths. The number of AIDS cases and deaths in 2001 and 2002 were 1742 and 716 respectively.

In certain areas, a relatively high rate of HIV prevalence is found among the unmarried youth population. For example, in 2001, anonymous HIV testing of that demographic was undertaken in Yining, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Findings showed that out of the 2,024 people tested, the overall prevalence rate was 1.14 per cent,with a 1.78 per cent figure among males.

Currently in China, the migrant population is estimated to be around 120 million, mostly of a sexually active age. This population is faced with greater risks to engage in unsafe sex and increasing changes of HIV/AIDS transmission due to physical pressures and increased liberty and opportunities combined with ignorance, the assessment noted.

By People's Daily Online

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