updated 11/15/2007 5:03:20 PM ET 2007-11-15T22:03:20

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will commit $50 million to expand HIV prevention efforts in China, in partnership with the Chinese government and non-governmental organizations.

The foundation said late Tuesday the funding will increase access to HIV prevention programs targeting those most vulnerable to infection, including injection drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men.

"By rapidly expanding access to effective HIV prevention, China has an opportunity to prevent a widespread HIV/AIDS epidemic," said Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation's Global Health Program. "China's leaders say they are serious about fighting AIDS, and we're pleased to partner with them on these efforts."

Although China's national HIV prevalence is low — less than 0.1 percent of the total population — infection rates are high among key risk groups. HIV prevalence among injection drug users exceeds 50 percent in some provinces, and in the past two years there have been substantial increases in HIV infection rates among men who have sex with men.

The foundation noted that stigma and discrimination against people with HIV remain major problems in China. For example, a 2005 study by researchers in Yunnan province found that nearly a third of doctors said they would refuse to treat an HIV-positive person.

In addition to prevention services for high-risk groups, the new Gates Foundation funding will support programs focused on increasing access to HIV counseling and testing, ensuring that HIV-positive people receive appropriate care and support — including prevention programs to help reduce high-risk behavior that could pass on the virus to others — and reducing the stigma of AIDS.

Of the $50 million, a $20 million grant will go to the Chinese Ministry of Health. The remaining $30 million will be used to provide grants to local, national and international non-governmental organizations. A small team of Gates Foundation staff in Beijing will administer the funding and provide technical advice and support.

The foundation's China office is led by Dr. Ray Yip, who was formerly the country director of China for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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