It’s World AIDS Day once again, giving us yet another chance to check in on how China is faring in combating the spread of HIV infections across the country. Turns out, things are getting worse.
At the end of September, there were a total of 654,000 people in China living with HIV/AIDS, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced yesterday. That’s compared with a report last year which found 575,000 people in China living with the virus. Over the course of the first nine months of this year, 96,000 new cases were reported.
Once again, a growing proportion of that number is made up of young people with 2,321 new cases among students (aged 15-24), that’s over four times the number from 2010.
Sexual transmission continues to account for the vast majority of new cases, a significant shift from the recent past. Before 2009, most HIV infections in China 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.
Since then the government has been doing an admirable job of cracking down on the illegal blood trade as well as drug use. However, as we explored yesterday, drugs and sex can often be deeply intertwined. A disproportionate number (nearly 25%) of new infections this year came from Yunnan province, the center for China’s drug trade due to its proximity to the Golden Triangle.
Still, the much more pressing problem to address is China’s abysmal sex education system. Sexual transmission now accounts for 94% of new infections (66.7% from heterosexual sex and 27.5% from homosexual sex). Last year, over 32,000 men were infected with the virus through homosexual sex. This has meant a dramatic shift in HIV cases from the countryside to the city, from the farmers to China’s urban elite.
As a Shanghai Daily report shows, this also holds true for Shanghai. The number of new case has dropped slightly this year in the city to 1,959; however the number of new infections among young men has risen significantly with 318 cases reported for men between 18-24 years old, an 80% increase compared with last year.
Considering all of these frightening numbers, the Chinese government is once again taking the occasion to announce that it will place greater importance on measures to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. Here’s a rundown of proposals made by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang:
Intervention needs to be more efficient, testing and counseling services more accessible, public education more targeted and follow-up services improved, Li said.
The premier also ordered “across-the-board implementation” of testing, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, medical assistance and other policy measures.
Li guaranteed prevention and control funds, drug research and development, international cooperation and greater roles for social organizations and volunteers.
Meanwhile, China’s First Lady, Peng Liyuan, is once again pushing for awareness of the problem, calling on societies to work together to improve the level of HIV/AIDS prevention. Last year, to help spread awareness, Peng led a campaign around college campus in China with the slogan: “Getting to Zero.”
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