HIV/AIDS on the rise in China

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chinaBEIJING (AFP) - China is experiencing a surge in the number of new HIV/AIDS infections as the virus spreads from high-risk groups to the general public.

There were 183,733 people confirmed with HIV/AIDS at the end of October, the health ministry said on its website, with the state-run press reporting the number was 27.5 percent higher than at the end of 2005.

The ministry did not provide comparative figures, but Xinhua news agency said there were 39,644 extra confirmed cases of HIV/AIDS in China in the first 10 months of the year, compared with a total of 144,089 at the end of 2005.

The number of confirmed, or reported, cases was far lower than the estimate of 650,000 people in China with HIV/AIDS announced in a report released jointly by the United Nations and the Chinese government in January.

AIDS campaigners told AFP the virus remained grossly under-reported in China, partly because of the social stigma attached to it, and that the real number of sufferers could be far higher than 650,000.

However, Wednesday's figures at least gave an indication of the worsening HIV/AIDS situation.

"The rising reported figures of both HIV infections and AIDS patients indicate that the epidemic in China is still serious and the danger of the disease spreading further remains high," Xinhua quoted health ministry official Hao Yang as saying.

The China Daily newspaper also quoted Hao as saying the virus seemed to be spreading from high-risk groups to the general public.

Hao noted that unprotected sex accounted for 28 percent of all the new cases this year, compared with 10 percent in 2002.

Drug abuse accounted for 37 percent of the cases reported in the first 10 months.

Just 38 percent of prostitutes in certain areas used condoms and about half of drug users surveyed shared syringes, Hao was quoted as saying.

Surveys of various regions also showed that the infection rate among gay men was between one and four percent in some areas, the China Daily said, citing the health ministry.

People who were infected through blood transfusions in the 1990s accounted for 5.1 percent of the total number of confirmed cases, the health ministry said.

The number of reported deaths from AIDS in the first 10 months of this year was 4,060, bringing the total number of recorded deaths from the virus in China to 12,464, it said.

AIDS activists and campaigners said the figures represented only a fraction of the actual infections in China.

"There are still many people who do not know they are already infected while there are others who are afraid of discrimination and avoid getting tested," activist Hu Jia said.

Hu said the new figures also likely represented many existing cases that had not been previously reported.

But he said that unless the government allowed independent organizations to carry out AIDS surveys, the official statistics -- compiled from local governments and police data -- would remain an underestimate.

Veteran AIDS campaigner Wan Yanhai also believed the actual number of people infected with HIV was much higher than the 650,000 estimate.

"It is impossible to estimate the actual number but it is bound to be much higher. It's a very serious problem," Wan said.

source - AFP