SARS spurs China to act on AIDS

By Shaoni Bhattacharya, Bangkok Lessons learned from China’s 2003 SARS epidemic are spurring the country’s response to AIDS, revealed a senior Chinese government minister on Tuesday. Wang Longde, China’s vice health minister, admitted that before 2000, the country “focused more on economic development and neglected social development”. He said this was “an important lesson we learned from last year’s SARS outbreak”. He pledged a serious response from China in the battle against HIV. “As a major country in the developing world, China has the responsibility and obligation to make its due contribution to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in Asia and the world at large.” In a report by UNAIDS and the Asia-Pacific Leadership Forum (APLF), which urges the region’s leaders to act quickly on the HIV/AIDS crisis, Wang writes: “Spurred by China’s experience with SARS, the central government is scaling up its response, politically and financially.” SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, first emerged in China’s Guangdong province in November 2002. But the country only publicly admitted the outbreak in February 2003, when there had already been 305 infections and 5 deaths. The virus went on to cause thousands of infections and hundreds of deaths around the world. There were 840,000 people living with HIV in China in 2003, according to an epidemiological survey by China’s ministry of health, with technical support from the World Health Organization and UNAIDs. Of these, 80,000 are estimated to be AIDS patients. But although the prevalence of HIV is low in China, and focused mainly on injecting drug users, the enormous size of the country’s population means a much larger outbreak could ensue. The number of people with HIV in China has jumped by 80% in the last two years, says Wang. “If the epidemic increases at a rate of 20 to 30% [a year] and no measures are taken, we estimate that by 2010 there will be 10 million HIV infections,” he writes. To combat the spread of HIV, he says the Chinese government has set up a number of committees, including one spanning 23 ministries. Other measures include access to anti-retroviral drug therapy, promotion of condoms at entertainment venues and making it illegal to discriminated against people with HIV. The UNAIDS/APLF report was launched at the XV International AIDS conference in Bangkok, Thailand. More on these topics:
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