China Faces Looming AIDS Epidemic

BEIJING - With international health experts pressuring the Chinese government to confront the AIDS virus, officials said this week that the number of those infected has jumped 17 percent since mid-2001.

Others estimate 10 million could be infected with the virus by 2010 if the government does not act quickly. With more than 1.3 billion residents, the official count of 30,736 seems impossible, international officials say.

The health ministry says intravenous drug use is to blame for 68 percent of infections. Yet the continuation of a traditional practice threatens millions. Blood buying, where pints of blood are pooled, is a popular custom in rural areas. The plasma is separated and the blood is redistributed from the original vats. It is estimated that 9.7 percent of all Chinese AIDS infections can be attributed to this practice.

In the central province of Henan, more than 40 percent of the village of Wenlou is infected because blood buying practices. This practice began in the 1980s. Each villager earned 40 yuan (5 dollars) per visit.

Gao Yaojie, MD, who has been criticized by the Chinese government for her AIDS activism, has been trying to alert authorities within China and abroad about the practice for years. She says clinics can no longer help the area - only a mass educational campaign aimed to children will make a difference.

She says she was denied a passport in 2001 to attend a conference in the United States, where she was to be presented with an award for her AIDS activism, because the Chinese government does not appreciate the attention she is drawing to the issue.

There are an estimated 600,000 Chinese infected with the disease to date, with the infection rate growing by 30 percent annually.

Government-owned pharmaceutical companies are producing low-cost anti-AIDS drugs until educational and social reforms are implemented.

Information from www.msnbc.com

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