140,000 orphaned by Aids, says Unicef
Bill Savadove in Shanghai
Epidemic claims thousands of parents
The mainland has an estimated 140,000 children who have lost at least one parent to Aids, but government efforts to give them financial assistance are falling short, a UN agency said yesterday.
The estimate, announced publicly for the first time by the mainland office of Unicef, includes children who have lost one or both parents to Aids - in line with the international definition of an Aids orphan.
In 2005, quoting figures provided by the China Disease Control Centre, state media reported that 76,000 children on the mainland had lost at least one parent to Aids and projected this figure could rise to 260,000 by 2010.
Zhang Lei , a consultant at the Unicef office for China, said half a million children on the mainland were affected by Aids, meaning they were orphaned, infected themselves, or living in households in which at least one parent was infected.
Ken Legins, the chief of HIV/Aids for Unicef China, said its figures were unofficial estimates compiled with institutions the agency worked with on the mainland.
Although the number of Aids orphans is relatively low given the mainland's 1.3 billion population, official figures show only about 8,000 of them are receiving some type of government subsidy.
Mr Legins said the government needed to provide information to children, such as education about HIV/Aids and how to use condoms.
'You should go talk to the kids and try to figure out how you need to provide the services, skills and information to them,' he said on the sidelines of an event sponsored by 'Basketball Without Borders', the community outreach programme of the American National Basketball Association.
Yao Ming , the mainland sports star who plays for the Houston Rockets and has campaigned on HIV/Aids issues affecting his homeland, was among other NBA players who met children affected by Aids at yesterday's event.
Unicef is encouraging communities to take care of children affected by Aids, instead of placing them in orphanages.
'One of the main reasons communities don't want to take children orphaned by Aids is because they think there are spells on them and they don't have the correct information about how it is transmitted. You need to educate the community,' Mr Legins said.
The funding gap for Aids orphans has created opportunities for charities and non-governmental organisations, though some local governments still resist.
'The central government is more supportive ... local governments are not very consistent,' said Chung To, founder of Hong Kong's Chi Heng Foundation, which has assisted children affected by Aids in several mainland provinces.
Authorities in Henan province's Shangcai county - one of the so-called 'Aids villages' where residents became infected with HIV because of government-sponsored blood sales in the 1990s - recently shut the foundation's local office and required any donations to be funnelled through the government instead of being given directly to schools or families.
UNAids regards 'China's Aids epidemic as one of low prevalence overall but with pockets of high infection'
The number of people the agency estimates to be living with HIV on the mainland 650,000