The Spread of AIDS in China
The first AIDS case in China was reported in 1985. The following years witnessed rapid growth of the HIV-positive population. Geographically, HIV-positive cases have now been reported in each and every one of the thirty-one provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities of mainland China. By the end of 2003, the total number of HIV-positive people reached 840,000, with about 80,000 people having developed full-blown AIDS. According to figures released by the government, the HIV-positive population was 1.04 million by the end of 2003, increasing at a yearly rate of thirty percent. The worst estimates put the number of infected people at ten million by 2010. The China Daily reported recently that now China agrees with this prediction.
Phases of AIDS Epidemic
The first phase (1985-1988) was characterized by a small number of “imported cases,” mainly foreigners or overseas Chinese. The second phase (1989-1993) can be described as a limited epidemic. It started in October 1989 when 146 drug users in southwestern Yunnan Province were tested positive for HIV. At the same time, a small number of HIV infections were reported among STD [Sexually Transmitted Disease] patients, sex-workers and laborers returning from overseas. The third phase started in late 1994 when HIV transmission spread beyond Yunnan Province. The national figure for HIV infection grew dramatically with a considerable number of cases reported among drug users and commercial plasma donors from various regions. Increasing numbers of drug-related HIV infections were reported in the provinces of Sichuan, Xinjiang and Guangxi. At the same time, HIV infection through sexual contact increased.
The Challenge Ahead
All indications have pointed to the fact that China is undergoing a major epidemic, if not a pandemic. To make things worse, the majority of HIV-positive people are in rural areas where medical services are poor. Furthermore, the routes of transmission now cover broad areas of the country. People infected with HIV come from all occupations, but many are farmers, returned migrant workers, unemployed people and businessmen. Young adults account for the majority of the infections: 56.9% of reported HIV carriers are between twenty and twenty-nine years of age, and 24.1% are between thirty and thirty-nine. Males outnumber females three to one.
The leading cause is believed to be blood transmission, which, including infected drug users, constitutes 72.6% of reported HIV-positive cases. With prostitution and the practice of having mistresses spreading across the country, heterosexual contact is now the second main cause, reaching 8.4%. Mother-to-child transmission constitutes 0.3%. There are still 18.7% of the infected that contracted the disease through unknown channels. Other factors contributing to the spread of HIV/AIDS are a huge population of more than one hundred million migrant workers and standards of sterilization and professionalism that are inferior at some blood donation sites and medical centers.
There has been an ignorance on the part of the government, both central and local, to the social, economic and political impact of the disease. Local governments have opted for covering up epidemics that stemmed from careless practices by illegal blood collection centers. There has been a lack of funds and a lack of initiative in raising the public’s awareness.
The epidemic is at the brink of spreading from high-risk groups (drug users, illegal blood donors and prostitutes) to common people. We have reached the point of desperately needing effective prevention and control work to avert further tragedy. Yet, in rural areas where the great majority of the infected population is located, there are only sub-standard health services available. The worst affected areas are Yunnan, Xinjiang, Guangdong, Guangxi, Henan and Sichuan. Nearly eighty percent of those infected have been not able to get necessary medical treatment.
The Chinese government has put forth a five-year plan (2001-2005) and an action program (2001-2010) to combat HIV/AIDS. It also has, since late last year, convened several nationwide conferences to call on government departments at various levels to grasp the unique opportunity to curb HIV/AIDS. Several documents have also been issued by the central government to step up efforts in mobilizing resources, including those from NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations), to fight against the disease. (Source: The Amity Foundation).