Time is running out for China to prevent an Aids epidemic, a medical expert has warned. Zheng Yi, of the mainland's top scientific institute, the Academy of Sciences, said China was at a 'critical juncture' in its fight with the deadly disease. He was quoted by the official Xinhua news agency as saying the number of HIV-positive people in China was growing at an alarming 30 per cent a year, and sufferers were no longer confined to groups like drug addicts but encompassed every sector of society. Dr Zheng warned that if China failed to take immediate 'resolute and effective measures' to control the disease then an epidemic would ensue. 'If that happens, China will become the country with the highest Aids population,' he said. 'This will bring us national disaster.' He said although the Government had hoped it could keep the number of people with Aids under 1.5 million by 2010, this target would not be met if problems like education and medical research were not properly addressed. In a separate report, Xinhua quoted Vice-Minister of Health Wang Longde as saying China had 18,143 registered HIV carriers at the end of March. He said 670 had developed Aids and 366 had died. Mr Wang admitted that because most HIV sufferers did not report their condition to the authorities, the true number of afflicted people must be much higher. The Xinhua report said the real number of HIV carriers in China could be as high as 600,000.