Chinese leaders accept scale of their country's Aids epidemic

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The Independent Online

China has tacitly admitted that it is facing an Aids problem by sending health experts to a village where the disease has become rife because the villagers are selling their blood in unsanitary conditions.

China has tacitly admitted that it is facing an Aids problem by sending health experts to a village where the disease has become rife because the villagers are selling their blood in unsanitary conditions.

The Health Ministry is setting up a 24-hour-a-day clinic in Wenlou in the central province of Henan, the Communist Party's newspaper, the People's Daily, said.

The report is a setback for Chinese officials, who had tried to suppress the news that thousands of villagers in Henan had become infected with Aids through a poorly-run local blood-buying industry.

But Dr Gao Yaojie, a retired gynaecologist who publicised Aids cases in Wenlou last year, said the clinic was a cosmetic gesture that would be insufficient to save lives in the region.

"Aids in this area is no longer a disease that can be controlled by such measures," Dr Gao said. "The affected regions are too huge." She said the only way to contain it was through a long-term education programme aimed mainly at children.

People's Daily did not give any details of what treatment would be available in Wenlou, or whether the team sent there would visit nearby villages. It reported the villagers as saying that they contracted Aids by selling blood plasma taken out of blood that was later transfused back into them. Needles were often re-used, and blood was pooled before being transfused, which increased the chances that of the Aids virus spreading. Villagers began selling blood in the 1980s, earning about 40 yuan ($5) a visit.

Chinese leaders have begun to acknowledge the scale of the country's Aids problem. About 600,000 Chinese are said to be infected, and that number is believed to be growing by more than 30 per cent a year.

New anti-Aids measures announced last week include a national publicity campaign and a rule that donated blood must be screened for the virus.

People's Daily said there would be a crackdown on criminal gangs, called "bloodheads", which it said were behind the blood-buying. A few errant companies that make plasma products were also involved, it said.

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