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China says reported HIV/AIDS cases up nearly 30 pct

Written by: Staff
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BEIJING, Nov 22 (Reuters) The number of reported HIV/AIDS cases in China has grown by nearly 30 per cent so far this year, the Health Ministry said today, warning the virus seemed to be spreading from high-risk groups to the general public.

The reported number of cases at the end of October had risen to 183,733, up from 144,089 at the end of last year, the Ministry said in a statement on its Web site (www.moh.gov.cn).

Of the reported cases diagnosed by government test centres and whose diseases could thus be officially followed up, 40,667 had developed into AIDS.

Experts from the United Nations and the Chinese Health Ministry estimate about 650,000 people in China carried HIV at the end of December, suggesting that many people were unaware they were infected.

Drug abuse accounted for 37 per cent of the newly found infections this year whose transmission routes had been determined, while unsafe sexual contact had caused 28 per cent, the Health Ministry said.

People selling blood illegally or receiving infected blood from hospitals in the 1990s accounted for 5.1 per cent, it added.

''Health officials attributed many of the new cases to better reporting of existing cases, though they also warned that the virus seemed to be spreading from high-risk groups to the general public,'' the China Daily said.

''Before 2002, only 10 per cent of all infections were caused by sexual contact,'' it quoted Hao Yang, deputy director of the Ministry's Disease Control Bureau, as saying.

The United Nations said in a report yesterday that China's drug-fuelled epidemic had reached ''alarming proportions''.

''With HIV spreading gradually from most-at-risk populations to the general population, the number of HIV infections in women is growing too,'' it said of China.

The infection rate among pregnant women in provinces experiencing serious epidemics, such as southwest Yunnan province, was about 1 percent -- the ''clearest evidence'' that the virus was spreading to the general public, Hao said.

He said unsafe sex and drug abuse still posed a great danger because measures to dissuade unsafe behaviour were not in place.

Health workers had found that only 38.7 per cent of prostitutes insisted on using condoms and about half the number of drug users still shared needles, the Health Ministry said, Mass human migrations and the rise in other sexually transmitted diseases in China also aggravated the threat of an HIV epidemic, it said.

Up to the end of October, 12,464 people were officially known to have died of AIDS in China, the ministry said. It has estimated that around 25,000 people died of AIDS in 2005 alone.

HIV/AIDS became a major problem for China in the 1990s when hundreds of thousands of impoverished farmers became infected through botched blood-selling schemes.

After initially being slow to acknowledge the threat, China has stepped up the fight against HIV/AIDS in recent years, increasing spending on prevention programmes and implementing anti-discrimination legislation.

This year, new recruits to the People's Liberation Army would be required to undergo AIDS and drug tests, Hong Kong's Beijing-funded Wen Wei Po newspaper said today.

REUTERS SSC VA RAI1158

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