Majority of newly infected on mainland heterosexual
When Wang Long began work raising awareness of HIV and Aids in Hangzhou's gay community in 2004, barely 1 per cent of those who volunteered to be tested carried the virus or had the disease.
Since then, the rate of infection among male homosexuals has roughly doubled every two years - to 3.65 per cent in 2006, 7 per cent in 2008 and 17 per cent last year, says Wang, head of a safe-sex advocacy group called Zhejiang Gay Men's Love Team.
'Hangzhou is not the worst place,' he says. 'Infection rates among men having sex with men in cities like Chongqing are even more alarming.'
'Even more worrisome is that authorities have yet to understand the gravity of the situation.'
Wang said organisations such as his own, like others working with the gay community, received no government support.
The harsh reality of rising infection rates has underscored the government's failure to mobilise NGOs working with the gay community, despite its progress elsewhere in containing a virus which, according to the official estimate, has infected 740,000 people.
Unofficial estimates are that twice as many are infected. This unofficial tally of the prevalence HIV and Aids on the mainland makes many in the gay community uneasy. The fear the figures will worsen the stigma associated with homosexuality.
Zhang Lingqi, a leading mainland Aids researcher, said the consensus among researchers was that HIV/Aids infections were spreading from the traditional high-risk groups to the general population, with transmission via heterosexual sex accounting for nearly 60 per cent of new infections last year.
Jing Jun, a professor and director of Tsinghua University's Aids Policy Research Institute, said that 2003 was a watershed year for Beijing's recognition of the HIV/Aids issue.
That September, Vice-Minister for Health Gao Qiang announced a basket of policies at a special United Nations HIV/Aids conference - promising free treatment and financial assistance to those affected by the disease.
In December of the same year came another milestone, when Premier Wen Jiabao shook hands with an Aids patient at a Beijing hospital on World Aids Day.
A study published last month in The Lancet Infectious Diseases shows China has reduced deaths from Aids by two-thirds since it began distributing free antiretroviral drugs in 2002.
Zhang, the executive vice-director of Tsinghua's Comprehensive Aids Research Centre, said the mainland had developed a multipronged approach to fighting HIV/Aids, including free treatment, voluntary HIV/Aids tests, and preventive intervention including safe-sex advocacy, early testing and drug adherence. Research into Aids vaccines and regimens will also get a huge boost in government funding in the coming five years.
Jing said there was now little dispute that HIV/Aids had become a public health crisis on the mainland, and the government needed to fine-tune its policies to counter discrimination against sufferers in schools, workplaces and hospitals, and to address the injustice of the mass infections from illicit blood sales in the 1990s.
The government alsoneeded to rethink its policies towards NGOs, he said. Organisations such as Wang's were better than government services at reaching high-risk groups such as drug addicts, prostitutes and homosexuals and it made sense that they be given more resources and a bigger role.
The number of mainland HIV patients receiving drug-cocktail therapy as of last August, out of a total of about 740,000