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AIDS Plague Galvanizes Nation into Battle

A nationwide survey of people who sold blood during the early 1990s is to be launched to establish whether they have been infected with the HIV virus.

Explaining the rationale behind such a survey, Mao Qun'an, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, highlighted the severity of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in China and said it would help give a clearer picture of the problem.

Before the country began to test blood for HIV prior to transfusions in 1997, many people, mostly poverty-stricken farmers, became infected with the virus after selling their blood.

The peak period for those infected after selling blood to develop full-blown AIDS is approaching. The average incubation time of the HIV virus in adults who get infected through blood transfusion is eight years.

If not already too late, the survey will track those HIV carriers or AIDS patients so that they can be properly treated.

Such a survey is the wise move of a discerning government. Instead of backing away from the problem or even pretending it does not exist, they are seeking to tackle it.

Blood sales not only risk spreading viruses, which damage health and families, but exacerbate the ruthless exploitation of the poor.

Government and legislators have taken many steps to ensure a better implementation of the law governing blood donations, which came into effect in 1998 and banned the sale of blood.

This ban could effectively prevent the spread of HIV and other viruses that can be transmitted through blood. It will benefit numerous people in the future, although it will require painstaking efforts to implement.

Actually carrying out the survey, aimed at tracing HIV carriers and AIDS patients among those who sold blood, will require great courage on the part of the decision-makers and those called to conduct it, far more than was needed to ban the practice of selling blood.

Henan Province in Central China, one of the worst affected areas, obtained a highly accurate number of people contaminated by blood sales from a survey they carried out in July.

Henan's investigation has proved to be of great significance in implementing measures to control the epidemic. Its very success is costly and will pose a much heavier financial and political burden on the government who will pay for the cost of testing and treatment.

It is not difficult to imagine what the national survey will uncover given the fact that 20 percent of those who tested positive for HIV in the Henan survey had no inkling they were infected.

Policy-makers have obviously recognized the potential burden and yet are ready to take on the fight against this 21st century plague, one which is ravaging millions around the world.

While applauding the move, we look forward to more substantial steps being taken to address the disease and providing humane care for those already infected.

(China Daily October 15, 2004)

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