Premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang has asked the Ministry of Finance to arrange a pilot programme that would give tax breaks to NGOs specialising in HIV/Aids prevention, as part of the government's attempt to reach out to grass-roots groups to help fight the disease. "The promotion of institutional reform in society requires the participation of [all] forces of society," Li said at an inter-ministerial meeting on Aids prevention this week, adding that reformation in supporting NGOs' work on Aids prevention could provide lessons for broader social reform. The government assembly and Li's surprise meeting with 12 Aids activist groups on Monday, reported by the Post yesterday, was not made public on the mainland through state media until last night. Stressing that the role of non-governmental organisations in Aids prevention "is an irreplaceable and unique force", Li was reported by CCTV as telling the NGO representatives that they "will be given greater space to play [their] role". In the CCTV report, Li was shown shaking hands with the NGOs representatives, some of whom have the disease. Discrimination against people with HIV/Aids is common in China. Li asked officials in the inter-ministerial meeting to explore setting up an Aids-prevention fund, buying NGOs services as well as offering tax breaks and even exemption to NGOs. The high-level meeting came after the vice-premier personally called the Health Ministry to weigh in on a case in which a lung cancer patient was denied treatment by public hospitals in Tianjin until he lied about his HIV status. "The incident led us to realise that we still face a lot of problems, even though we've made marked achievements in HIV/Aids prevention work," he said, stressing that all of society should confront the disease head-on. Li Keqiang, who is expected to become premier in March after being elevated to the No 2 position on the Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, seized upon the issue to help counter criticism stemming from an alleged cover-up of a massive HIV outbreak in Henan province in the late 90s when he was the provincial governor. Li, who chairs the State Council Aids Working Committee Office, faces a daunting task in containing the virus, which is spreading fast in high-risk groups. The health authority announced yesterday that 17,740 Aids-related deaths were reported from January to October, a year-on-year increase of 8.6 per cent. The health ministry said the latest figures show that 34,157 new cases of Aids were reported in the 10-month period, up 12.7 per cent year-on-year. Gaga, a representative from Tianjin Deep Blue Voluntary Working Group who was at the NGOs meeting with Li, said that his group had worked with people from high-risk groups for seven years and had helped screen out 121 new infections last year, accounting for nearly 30 per cent of the confirmed infections in Tianjin. However, his group is running out of funds. In response, Li told Chen Zhu, the minister of health, to help preserve such an experienced and efficient NGO.