Rights organisation welcomes drugs for the poor, but calls for broader change A rights group has welcomed China's latest move to provide Aids medicines to the poor, but criticised the continued crackdown on drug users and prostitutes. Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia division of New-York-based Human Rights Watch, said the move to give anti-retroviral drugs to poor HIV and Aids patients was a great step forward. 'We welcomed the plan. But draconian crackdowns against people at high risk of HIV will only drive them underground and make it less likely they will come forward for testing and treatment.' Last week, Executive Deputy Health Minister Gao Qiang said the central and local governments had committed 6.8 billion yuan (HK$6.39 billion) to set up anti-Aids units, and about 200 million yuan a year for prevention and treatment. Mr Gao said about 5,000 poor HIV/Aids patients would receive free treatment this year, and officials later said they hoped that figure would be increased to 40,000 by 2008. The group said harsh policies targeting drug users and prostitutes include arbitrary detention, forced labour, detention in unclean and overcrowded facilities and mandatory testing for HIV without informing detainees of the results. Discrimination was also widespread in hospitals and clinics, many of which refused to admit HIV patients, while Aids wards were closed and padlocked. 'How will the Chinese government give out medicine if the patients can't even get into the hospitals? They [the authorities] misunderstand how they should help people,' Mr Adams said. 'They take drug users on the streets and test them for HIV - not for treatment - and throw them back on the streets without telling them the results because they are afraid to pay the medical costs. In the end they end up in the street sharing needles again.' The Ministry of Health says there are 840,000 HIV carriers in China. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids said China could have as many as 10 million infections by 2010.