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Despite Progress, Much to Be Done in Henan AIDS Villages
The central government will allocate 470 million yuan (US$56.8 million) to HIV/AIDS control this year, said Vice Minister of Health Wang Longde at a Tuesday press conference. Wang is also head of the administration office of the AIDS Prevention Work Committee.

The fund, up 20 percent from last year, will be distributed to specific provinces and counties for publicity, testing and treatment of AIDS patients and HIV carriers, and prevention measures. In 2001, just 100 million yuan was budgeted for HIV/AIDS control, but that was a huge increase from the 15 million yuan of the previous years.

The number of HIV/AIDS surveillance outlets will rise from the current 194 to 300 next year, Wang said. Official figures put the current number of HIV carriers at 840,000, 80,000 of whom have full-blown AIDS.

The Ministry of Health is organizing experts to draft a national regulation on HIV/AIDS control, which is expected to be presented to the State Council this year. The country already has a five-year working plan and a 12-year blueprint for AIDS/HIV control.

Wang said that central China's Henan Province is one of the areas most severely affected by the AIDS epidemic. As of February this year, a total of 11,844 people were confirmed HIV-positive in Henan; the most recent figure puts the number at some 16,000.

Illegal blood collection is the primary source of the epidemic in Henan. In the early 1990s, many low-income farmers from poorer provinces such as Henan, Shanxi and Sichuan were infected when they sold their blood plasma at unauthorized purchasing stations. They then spread the virus to their spouses and partners.

Substantial changes in AIDS prevention and control have taken place in Henan this year, said Wang, with the local government now taking the problem very seriously. In February, the provincial government dispatched assistance teams to 38 of the hardest-hit villages, each of which was home to anywhere from 10 to 400 HIV-positive persons.

The teams live and work directly with the villagers, providing physical examinations, building roads, digging wells, establishing schools and clinics and otherwise providing assistance and guidance.

This has made a tremendous change in the villagers' lives, the vice minister said. In the past they were frustrated, frightened and angry, and if any official appeared in the village they would surround him or her to express their complaints and seek redress. Stability and calm have returned. "During my conversations with them, I saw the smiles on their faces really came from the bottoms of their hearts," said Wang.

However, a great deal still needs to be done in Henan. Testing, monitoring and education must be strengthened throughout the province, particularly in other areas that are known to be affected by HIV/AIDS, in order to understand fully the epidemic's impact.

Wang cited Zhumadian City as an example. Investigation reveals that 74,800 people there have sold blood, but only about 30,000 have been tested for HIV. "We must find the infected people as quickly as possible and determine whether they need immediate treatment in order to improve AIDS prevention and control," said Wang. "I have told the local government this is its key task: prevent and control the epidemic and save lives."

The Ministry of Health and Henan provincial government have determined that all 16,000 confirmed HIV carriers should have their T-cell levels checked by the end of July to ascertain who needs immediate treatment. The 180,000 people in the province who have sold blood should be tested for the virus by the end of September.

( June 30, 2004)

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