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Migrant Workers to Get Help in AIDS Fight

The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) on Monday launched an ambitious project to prevent the spread of AIDS among the country's 150 million migrant workers.

The three-year project will cover key industries and places that have a high concentration of migrant workers in Guangdong, Yunnan and Anhui provinces and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

China has an estimated mobile population of about 150 million. The project will provide free education and training on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment to as many migrant workers as possible.

"Since the trend of the epidemic is shifting from drug use to sexual transmission in China, migrant workers have become increasingly vulnerable to HIV infection," said Richard Howard, an advisor to the HIV/AIDS Project of ILO's Beijing Office. "Many of them lack prevention knowledge and are separated from their families and social networks."

According to the Ministry of Health, the country had 700,000 HIV/AIDS patients last year, and 51 percent of them had contracted the disease through sexual transmission.

Figures of the Hunan center for disease control are even more alarming. They show the mobile population, mainly migrant workers, accounted for 77.1 percent of HIV/AIDS patients in the province last year.

Howard warned that the challenges of adjusting to urban life had increased the high-risk behaviors among sexually active migrant workers. Add to that their lack of medical insurance, inability to afford proper medical treatment and frequent mobility, and the situation becomes highly vulnerable.

Xu Lu, deputy division chief of ACFTU's international liaison department, said there was an urgent need to protect migrant workers from HIV/AIDS, and prevent them from becoming a high-risk group for the general population. "It's important that we take immediate steps, focusing on migrant workers, to prevent the spread of the epidemic."

Xu Zhenhuan, ACFTU vice chairman, said his organization had been using its network to educate migrant workers on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. The ACFTU launched the Red Ribbon Campaign in 2004, aiming to raise millions of workers' awareness on HIV/AIDS.

And in line with China's AIDS Action Plan for the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10), the government will introduce AIDS intervention program among 90 percent of the migrant workers by 2010.

Constance Thomas, director of the ILO Office for China and Mongolia, said the ACFTU-ILO project would help China focus on higher risk segments of the migrant work force and develop messages and services to change their specific risk behaviors.

"We need to move beyond just raising awareness to changing risk behaviors that lead to HIV infections among workers and their families."

Leading actor Wang Baoqiang, who was once a migrant worker in Beijing, was chosen to speak for the campaign. "The HIV situation in China is worrying It's time we took firm action to protect migrant workers from the disease If I can save even one life with my words, I will consider it a job well done," he said.

(China Daily July 29, 2008)

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