China top spender in fight against Aids

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 July, 2012, 12:00am


The amount China spent on fighting HIV/Aids quadrupled to US$530 million last year from US$124 million in 2007, making the nation an important player in the global campaign against the disease, a UNAids report said yesterday.

China is now one of the top five contributors to research into HIV, spending US$18.3 million last year, including the pursuit of a vaccine.

The report singled out as a milestone a new level of access to antiretroviral treatment - for the first time, half of the people who needed the treatment, about eight million, had access to the drugs.

The report was released ahead of the 19th International Aids Conference in Washington next week.

It said annual new infections had dropped by 20 per cent over the past decade, to 2.5 million last year. The number of people worldwide with HIV/Aids totalled 34.2 million.

Steve Kraus, the director of the UNAids regional support team for Asia and the Pacific, said people could for the first time since the virus emerged talk about reversing the rise in the number of infections, and even an end to the epidemic.

'Are we getting everyone on the treatment? No. Have we stopped all these new infections? No,' Kraus said. 'But we get an increase in the coverage of treatment and we're reducing new infections.'

The report highlighted the growing potential of emerging economies such as China Brazil, Russia and South Africa contributing to funding the global fight. It said their rising economic strength allowed them to assume responsibility for their domestic programmes, thereby freeing up assistance for less developed nations.

But it also underscores the challenges that remain. For instance, young people accounted for a disproportionately high number of new infections - about 40 per cent.

Discrimination remained a problem in many parts of the world. More than 60 per cent of HIV-infected people in China, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Scotland reported feeling ashamed of their condition, the report said. They were often verbally insulted, shunned by family members or lost their jobs because of their status, it said.

China has 346,000 registered HIV carriers and Aids patients, but the number had been expected to reach 780,000 by the end of last year, according to an earlier assessment by the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organisation and UNAids.

Kraus said China needed to learn to spend HIV/Aids funds wisely by working with communities to reach out to key groups at risk, such as gay men. He voiced disapproval of a recent push to demand real-name registration for counselling or testing.

'It's important for people to know their HIV status, but it's voluntary and people go out voluntarily to identify and know their status, not because they're forced to do that,' he said. 'So if you start to introduce a compulsory test system, you drive the very people you try to seek for services underground.'