China's Aids epidemic has yet to claim substantial numbers of children, but the numbers could spiral out of control without enhanced legal protections, educational initiatives and effective treatment, Unicef said yesterday. 'We don't know the actual number of infected children, but it appears to be below 1,000,' said Unicef's representative for China and Mongolia, Edwin Judd, who believes the disease has yet to truly invade the general population. At the same time, Unicef officials cautioned that with infection rates rising at the alarming rate of up to 30 per cent annually, and considering Aids claimed the lives of about 40,000 Asian youngsters last year, the numbers are not expected to remain static. Unicef said its figure was based on the 1,800 officially registered infected persons under the age of 20, and calculated to reflect Unicef's definition of only those under 18 as children. 'The situation in China with regard to the epidemic's spread is very similar to East Asia as a whole: the epidemic is winning the race,' Mr Judd warned. 'Of particular concern in China is the discrepancy between the number of reported cases versus the actual estimates of how many are infected.' Up to September there were 28,133 registered cases, but official estimates range from 600,000 to 1.5 million. 'For me it is very important to see the whole issue of breaking the silence has now been addressed in China,' said Unicef's Asia-Pacific regional director, Mehr Kahn, who attended China's first international Aids conference in Beijing last week. Ms Kahn noted that for countries such as Thailand, which had had a 'big success' in tackling its Aids epidemic, effective national mobilisation only came several years after the country started openly addressing the issue. Unicef is now focusing its efforts in China to help officials work on Aids prevention for children, establishing HIV education in schools, helping families with infected members cope with the disease and avoid discrimination and providing infected children with adequate treatment. Mr Judd also implored the Chinese media to play a pro-active role in disseminating accurate information and promoting tolerance, since news reports penetrated remote areas where government initiatives had yet to be established.