China, once accused of being slow to acknowledge the threat of AIDS, could have as many as 10 million HIV carriers in five years if no effective preventive measures are taken, state media said on Monday, echoing a grim UN warning.
China says it has 840,000 HIV-AIDS cases among its 1.3 billion population, but experts say at least a million poor farmers were infected in botched blood-selling schemes in the central province of Henan alone.
“If the preventive measures are slack, the number of people infected by HIV could reach 10 million by 2010,” Dai Zhicheng, director of the Health Ministry’s Committee of AIDS Experts, was quoted by the Xinhua Daily Telegraph as saying.
Dai said the number could be kept under 1.5 million if the right steps are taken and there are sufficient funds.
The United Nations has also said the number could rise to 10 million by the end of this decade if the epidemic is not treated seriously.
After initial reluctance to even talk about AIDS, China has poured millions of dollars into public awareness campaigns and providing free antiretroviral treatment.
State leaders have also made headlines shaking hands and chatting with AIDS patients, trying to remove the social stigma attached to the disease.
But public fear and ignorance remain strong and the government continues to be suspicious of volunteers and non-governmental organisations trying to help spread AIDS awareness.
Increasing social mobility and 25 years of economic reforms have also added extra difficulties -- 120 million of the rural population have swarmed into cities looking for work and drug abuse and prostitution have flourished.