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Campaign on AIDS Awareness to Start
A wave of HIV/AIDS education posters will sweep China soon as the government steps up its effort to raise AIDS awareness, said Vice Minister of Health Wang Longde at the ongoing 15th International AIDS Conference in Thailand.

"We will put up the posters in every street and lane. We will make sure [our message] makes it to every village," he told a Monday evening special session dedicated to fighting HIV/AIDS in China.

Wang said the government has realized that dissemination of knowledge is crucial to preventing the spread of the disease. People must understand precisely how the virus infects people so that they will know how they can avoid it, he said.

Educating the rural population is particularly important because that group generally has less access to information than city dwellers. Eighty percent of HIV infections in China are in the countryside.

"We also want to find as many of those infected as soon as possible so we can treat them and help them return to their normal lives," he said.

Wang reiterated the country's policies of providing free treatment to AIDS patients who are not covered by the medicaid system and providing free HIV tests and social and financial support to children whose lives are affected by AIDS.

China now has an estimated 840,000 HIV carriers and 80,000 AIDS patients. Although the prevalence is still low, the increase is accelerating, and the concentrations in some regions and high mortality rate among certain groups has made the government realize the magnitude of the peril.

The theme of the conference, which opened on Sunday and closes on Friday, is "Access for all," to promote accessible treatment and prevention.

Leadership was a central topic in panel discussions, and agreement was unanimous on the significance of strong direction in mobilizing society to face the global challenge.

China has been widely praised in Bangkok for its practical, goal-oriented policies and the strong leadership it has demonstrated. Just before the conference, Premier Wen Jiabao again promised an all-out fight against HIV/AIDS.

"China means business when it talks about AIDS," said Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, the United Nations agency for combating AIDS.

Trevor Neilson, executive director of the global business coalition on HIV/AIDS, said China's commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS is "unparalleled."

Neilson's organization is dedicated to uniting major multinational companies and influential local firms to do their part in HIV/AIDS prevention and control. Before coming to Bangkok, he visited China and met with senior health officials.

"They invited us to be part of China's battle with AIDS. Their spirit of openness and enthusiasm is incredible," he said at a seminar organized by the US National Press Foundation prior to the conference.

However, panelists in Bangkok agreed that there still some way to go in turning the policies of China's central government into actions in every province, county and village.

Wang said input from the government alone will not be enough. "We must unite all forces of the entire society, especially from the non-governmental organizations (NGOs), if we want victory in containing AIDS," he said.

He said foreign NGOs are also welcome in this regard. Currently, about a dozen overseas NGOs are operating in China, he said.

Still, the domestic NGOs account for the majority. They possess special capabilities in educating the general and high-risk population and providing care and support to those infected, Chinese scientists and activists have said.

(China Daily July 14, 2004)

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