Britain's £15m to fight Aids in China

Click to follow
The Independent Online

China's biggest bilateral project to tackle the Aids epidemic threatening millions of its people was launched with the British Government yesterday.

China's biggest bilateral project to tackle the Aids epidemic threatening millions of its people was launched with the British Government yesterday.

The Department for Inter-national Development (DFID) will spend £15.3m in five years on initiatives such as distributing condoms and needles to Chinese sex workers and drug users.

In attempting to establish an effective national response to HIV and Aids, the project is one of the most ambitious activities Britain has attempted in China.

Official statistics suggest there are 500,000 people infected with the Aids virus in mainland China. Unofficial estimates run as high as four million, while experts warn China could become the worst affected nation in the world.

Nigel Cox, an official from the British embassy in Peking, said: "The programme aims to interrupt the major routes of HIV transmission in China - the sharing of needles by drug users, and unsafe sex."

Some Chinese officials are loath to admit the extent of the problem. Prostitution and drug abuse were among six "social evils" the Communist Party claimed to have eliminated in the 1950s. The project's co-ordinator, Professor Wu Yiqun from the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, said: "We want to work with prostitutes and drug addicts, but both are illegal. When we give out condoms, the Public Security Bureau thinks we are encouraging prostitution."

The official reaction to the country's first condom advertisement in 1999 was to ban it after a day because party elders feared it might encourage people to have sex. Such political sensitivities almost derailed the project, but agreement was reached in March this year.

The project concentrates on high-risk groups in Yunnan and Sichuan, two of China's poorest provinces, which have rising numbers of commercial sex workers and provide export routes for drugs. The DFID will devise models for HIV-Aids prevention and control that can be used throughout China. The project should also improve China's disparate efforts to limit the number infected with HIV to 1.5 million by 2010.

Comments