Today is World AIDS Day and that means it is time to check in on how China is faring combating HIV infections across the country, it turns out not so well.
According to the latest numbers, China has about 575,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, a growing proportion of that number is high school and university students, Xinhua reports.
According to Wu Zunyou, director of the National Center for AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Disease Control, most of these new cases involve young men who have unprotected sex with other men.
This is actually a significant change from the past. Before 2009, most HIV infections were not transmitted by sex, but rather through drug use, blood transfusions and a mysterious “unknown” factor that got as high as 17.5%, according to data from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, from 1985 to 2005, around 30% of China’s HIV infections were caused by the country’s shady blood trade.
In recent years, the government has been doing an admirable job of cracking down on the illegal blood trade as well as drug use. However, Jing Jun, the director of the Center for Research on Public Health at Tsinghua University adds that they are not doing enough in another crucial area, pointing the finger at China’s always abysmal sex education system:
“But the government seems much less effective in controlling the private sphere of ordinary people’s lives, as evidenced by the rapid increase of HIV infections via heterosexual and homosexual routes,” Jing said. “The government needs to learn how to use soft power through educational means to change people’s unsafe sexual behavior.”
According to the China CDC, sexual transmission now accounts for more than 92% of all new infections (66% from heterosexual activities and 27% from homosexual activities). Around 8% of men who have sex with men in China are living with HIV/AIDS,
This has meant a dramatic shift in HIV cases from the countryside to the city, from the farmers to China’s urban elite. According to China Daily, more than 3,400 cases of HIV have been reported among students this year, up from 779 in 2008.
One researcher went even further into explaining the causes for China’s rise in HIV cases among young city dwellers, via The New York Times:
Another risk factor, Mr. Chen said, is the common practice in China of gay men marrying women to avoid social stigma and to produce offspring as a filial gesture toward parents.
“We have no research on this because this is a very sensitive question,” Mr. Chen said in an interview. “But it has become a question not to be ignored that some women are getting this from their gay husbands.”
Dating apps have also contributed to the rising number of sexually transmitted cases among gay men, Mr. Chen said.
“Because of the spread of social networking apps, people have more frequent interactions,” he said. “It means that gay men are more closely connected to one another and have more chance to know one another. If they don’t use condoms, there will be higher chances for the disease to spread.”
In order to help spread awareness, China’s First Lady Peng Liyuan attended an event at Beijing’s Tsinghua University ahead of World AIDS Day where she unveiled the new slogan that will seen around campuses throughout China: “Getting to Zero.”