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More treated for AIDS after Guangdong introduces free tests

By Yang Jingjie (Global Times)

09:37, July 12, 2012

Health authorities in Guangdong Province are treating a growing number of people living with HIV/AIDS, following a program launched last year to offer free tests and medicines to the migrant population.

More than 70 percent of HIV carriers and AIDS patients living in the province now receive anti-virus treatments, compared with 50 percent in the past, Lin Peng, director of the provincial HIV/AIDS Prevention and Treatment Center, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Lin conceded that the treatment coverage rate is still low, given difficulties in obtaining information on the huge migrating population in the province.

Guangdong has more than 32,000 people infected with HIV and more than 9,800 AIDS patients, the Nanfang Daily reported Tuesday citing official figures. Among those who are receiving treatment, about 20 percent do not have local household registration.

In the first half of 2011, the provincial government began to provide free anti-viral medicine and HIV testing to people who work in Guangdong even if they don't have a local household registration. The reform allows both locals and non-locals to receive HIV/AIDS treatment in Guangdong, which has more than 30 million migrant workers, the most in the country.

HIV carriers can only receive free treatment where they are registered as residents. As a result, many HIV carriers are unable to leave their hometowns to make a living, or if they do leave, they forgo treatment.

A staffer surnamed Yang with Guangzhou Red Ribbon Home, a non-governmental organization that deals with HIV/AIDS control and prevention, told the Global Times Wednesday that "the free treatment and tests have prompted more people to voluntarily get tested."

The anti-viral medicine costs about 2,000 yuan ($314) a month on average and an HIV test is priced at over 400 yuan, said Yang.

It is difficult to include foreigners in the province in the free testing program and collect data on their infection rate mainly because of communication difficulties, Lin said.

According to the latest national population census, around 310,000 Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan residents and foreigners live in Guangdong.

Lin said officials are now conducting research on the foreign community on HIV/AIDS prevention.

In 2010, China revoked a ban on people with HIV/AIDS entering its borders, ending a decades-old policy. The regulation stipulates that local health authorities could ask public security authorities to deport foreigners with HIV/AIDS.

Li Dun, a professor with the Center for the Study of Contemporary China at Tsinghua University and an HIV/AIDS prevention activist said, "As long as discrimination exists, some HIV carriers, be they Chinese or foreigners, would tend to conceal their health situation. And that could be very daunting for the prevention of the disease."

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