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Survey Aims to Discover, Curb AIDS Spread

China's worst-hit AIDS province, Henan, has initiated a survey of blood buying medical stations in an effort to discover the true extent of its AIDS epidemic, local officials said.

The survey, which began on July 26, aims to poll over 1 million people in 18 cities and 35 counties in the province believed to have sold blood at unsanitary blood stations, China Youth Daily reported.

The survey aims to clarify how many people in the province are currently suffering from AIDS, how many are carrying the HIV virus and how many people donated blood for money before 1995, said Ma Jianzhong, director of the Henan Health Bureau at a press conference over the weekend.

The Henan provincial government has so far documented some 21,703 HIV carriers who became infected after selling blood at illegal and unsanitary blood stations in the 1990s, officials said.

In a bid to make money, people in the Central China province, mostly farmers, sold their blood to illegal blood stations and individuals.

Tragically, many got more than they bargained for, contracting the deadly HIV virus. The equipment used to take blood was not sterilized.

Total HIV/AIDS cases in Henan have reached 25,036. Among those infected, more than 97 percent come from rural areas, official statistics show. More than 11,800 infected people have already shown AIDS symptoms, Ma said.

More than 500,000 officials and medical specialists have formed 53 working groups to do the survey, which is said to be the largest HIV/AIDS survey in the world, Ma said.

The need for the ongoing poll appears to indicate what international medical experts have long feared, that the unsanitary blood drives could have infected far more people with HIV/AIDS than have been so far documented.

Many other regions, such as Shanxi, Sichuan and Hubei provinces, are also suffering from the impact of the illegal blood sales.

Moreover, the increasing number of AIDS patients is putting an increasing strain on governments, which provide them with medical treatment.

Since 2003, governments have been providing anti-virus medicine for all rural HIV/AIDS sufferers for free. Nearly 80 percent of China's HIV carriers live in rural and remote areas.

However, due to the poor medical services and under trained personnel at grass-roots levels, many AIDS patients have stopped taking the medicine, which has allowed the disease to progress.

(China Daily September 13, 2004)

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