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Unhealthy Behavior, Gay Sex Behind HIV Growth

Unhealthy sexual behavior is the biggest culprit in spreading HIV/AIDS on the mainland, while men who have sex with men (MSM) are now the most likely to become infected by the disease, an official with the Ministry of Health said Thursday.

"In the past, between 1 and 3 percent of MSM in the mainland had HIV/AIDS. Now it is anywhere from 2.5 to 6.5 percent," Hao Yang, deputy chief of the disease prevention and control bureau under the Ministry of Health, said.

More than half of China's MSM have more than one sexual partner, but only between 10 and 20 percent of them use condoms, he said.

Also, many MSM are bi-sexual, meaning they run the risk of spreading HIV/AIDS to their girlfriends, wives or children, he said.

The number of people with HIV on the mainland increased by an average 3,000 a month between January last year and June this year, according to official figures.

To fight this problem, the Ministry of Health and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Thursday jointly launched a five-year campaign to teach MSM about preventing and controlling HIV/AIDS.

The foundation will invest US$50 million a year to support the campaign, which will operate in 14 large and medium-sized cities, including the four municipalities.

Huang Jiefu, vice minister of the Ministry of Health, said: "The key purpose of this program is to contain the epidemic and reduce the rate of new infections among high-risk parts of the population living in the area covered by the campaign.

"We also want to promote the adoption of effective prevention and control strategies in areas not covered by the campaign.

"In the future, the government will focus more on international cooperation and experience-sharing in the fight against HIV/AIDS," he said at the campaign's launch ceremony Thursday in Beijing.

The government has been working with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; the United Nations and other bilateral agencies, he said.

Many non-governmental organizations such as the Clinton foundation and the Global Entrepreneur Association as well as companies such as Merck have also joined the country's fight against HIV/AIDS, according to the ministry.

"I feel very hopeful that China will be able to control AIDS within the next five to 10 years," Ray Yip, the country representative for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said Thursday.

He said China has committed to fighting the disease at a time when the overall prevalence is still very low - less than one in 1,000.

"I have seen two conditions necessary for controlling AIDS: Early response and high-level commitment.

"Now, the only remaining necessary condition is an effective prevention program," he said.

(China Daily November 16, 2007)

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