Today is Global AIDS Day, so we thought we’d take a look at the state of HIV/AIDS in China and some of the important developments that have taken place over the last year. Bad news first: the total number of AIDS deaths in China jumped a crazy 20,000 from last October to now, putting the total deaths on record at 68,315, according to figures released earlier this week. While the jump in numbers is most likely due to more accurate recording methods, the government has promised to respond by stepping up screening for the disease and education campaigns among at-risk groups.
The number of those living with the disease in China since 1980 is now estimated at 740,000, only about 340,000 of which are actual registered cases. Provinces hit hardest by the disease are Yunnan, Henan, Sichuan, Guangdong, Xinjiang and Guangxi, which account for over 70% of cases. Sex is now the most prevalent mode of transmission, and while many are concerned over the jump in male homosexual transmission rates, they only accounted for 8.6% of HIV/AIDS cases in 2009 (up from 5.9% in 2008.)
Shanghai has reported 1,053 new HIV cases (a startling 29% rise in infection rate over the previous year) and 49 HIV/AIDS-related deaths in the first 10 months of this year. About 70% of the new cases were a result of unprotected sex, and the breakdown is almost exactly half-hetero, half-homosexual. But the rates of infection in both groups have seen a sharp rise (a 28.5% rise for heterosexual transmission and a 64.5% rise in homosexual transmission.) In response to the numbers, local officials have called for an increase in AIDS prevention, health education, and control facilities.
On the national scale, the Chinese government has chosen to focus on amping up screening procedures and focusing education campaigns on at-risk groups like sex workers and drug addicts. According to Xinhua, this will include “the application of fast HIV-infection detection methods at the grass-roots level” and “a comprehensive intervention network comprised of forced rehabilitation, community correction, and medical treatment” among drug addicts.
Almost as an afterthought, they also mention raising public awareness about the disease, especially among middle school and college students. This, some may argue, is a move just as important as the other initiatives. China is notoriously behind on educating its youth about safe sex, although we’ve seen a few feeble attempts in recent months.
An excellent entry on the youth-focused consumer research site Enovate brings to light more than a few disturbing statistics on sex education in China. According to a national survey, only 14.4% of youth polled were aware of HIV transmission and prevention. Because of the taboo surrounding sex in this country, most Chinese youth are forced to find all their answers online (as many as three quarters according to a poll by China Youth Daily) which leads to widespread misinformation.
Lack of education not only includes prevention and transmission, but also general knowledge of the disease itself. Last February hundreds of Chinese were convinced they had contracted the disease despite repeated test results to the contrary (one could argue that hey, at least they’re aware of the risk?)
As far as attitude toward those infected, we have seen some positive changes. China officially ended it’s ban on foreigners with HIV/AIDS entering the country back in April. And the first HIV-related employment discrimination case to hit Chinese courts is currently taking place in Anhui province.
Dispite the positive moves, China continues its habit of intimidating the most vocal HIV/AIDS activists, most recently bullying a childrens AIDS charity into closing its doors last month. Back in April, Wan Yanhai, the head of the Aizhixing Institute, was forced to flee the country (he’s been back in the news this week as one of the only Chinese activists able to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for Liu Xiaobo on December 10th – most others, especially Liu’s friends and family, have been prevented from attending.)
And despite Yao Ming’s best efforts last year, public paranoia targeting those infected with HIV persists. In a country where contracting the disease accidentally by blood transfusion is still possible, it is more easy to see how many might misunderstand this risk of transmission.
Tragically, the target of public mistrust is often children. Recently one HIV-infected orphan in Guangxi province sparked parent protests outside the gate of his school because they were terrified that he may infect their children while playing. Unfortunately this is not the first time we’ve heard of such an incident.
If you’d like to do your part to help, there are plenty of excellent ways to get involved. Visit the World AIDS Day website for ideas, or get involved with the Aizhixing Institute or Chi Heng Foundation. Do you have a favorite HIV/AIDS organization that deserves our support? Let us know in the comments!