In 2007, sexual contact became the main mode of HIV transmission for the first time in China and today, it accounts for almost 90 percent of the country’s new HIV infections—a staggering increase from the 12 percent of cases from 1985 to 2005.
China has seen vast improvements in HIV/AIDS prevention and control as a result of crackdowns on unsafe and illegal blood collections across the country. The share of HIV/AIDS cases attributed to blood transfusion and plasma donations dropped from 30 percent during 1985-2005 to 3.3 percent in 2011.
The number of HIV infections in injecting drug users (IDU) has also dropped from nearly 44 percent during 1985-2005 to 17 percent in 2011.
Measures taken to prevent the spread of HIV through sexual contact, however, have been less successful, as cases attributed to unsafe sex continue to increase. Today, sexual contact accounts for nine out of ten of China’s reported HIV infections. During the 1985-2005 era, sexual contact accounted for only 12 percent of infections.
The alarmingly high rate is in part a result of the abysmal state of sex education across China (although health authorities have wrongheadedly tried to pin it on gay internet usage) . A survey from September last year showed that over 50 percent of sexually active, student-aged respondents said they didn’t use contraception the first time they had sex, and Xinhua reported earlier last year that there are an estimated 7,000 people of student age who are HIV-positive. A large majority of Chinese parents have called for better sex education across schools to increase awareness, but, as far as teaching, the subject remains taboo.
Asia Unbound’s Yanzhong Huang says that the changing mode of HIV transmissions correlates with an ongoing sexual revolution across the country:
Today, with more than six million workers practicing the world’s oldest profession, China likely has the largest commercial sex industry in the world. A 2005-06 survey conducted in three cities in the Sichuan province found that 95.2 percent of men had visited a commercial sex worker (CSW) within six months. In a more recent survey, nearly one quarter of the respondents admitted having more than one sex partner. While the HIV prevalence rate among female sex workers remains consistently low (no more than 1 percent in most provinces), the virus is spreading fast among China’s elderly population (most of whom were believed to be infected by using the services of CSWs).