Aids is China’s Deadliest Disease (Updated)

More people died in China of AIDS last year than any other infectious disease. The BBC reports:

A report by the country’s state media said had led to the deaths of almost 7,000 people in the first nine months of 2008.

The number of deaths caused by tuberculosis and rabies fell back into second and third place.

The numbers are increasing dramatically – China’s Ministry of Health say that until three years ago, fewer than 8,000 people altogether had died from HIV/Aids.

By last year, the total had risen to five times that many.

Many have criticized the government for its responses to the crisis in the past. From The Independent:

The Health Ministry confirmed 264,302 accumulated cases of HIV/Aids by the end of September last year. Of those cases, 34,864 had died in those nine months. In China, the disease is mainly transmitted sexually, but the virus initially spread because of unsanitary blood plasma-buying schemes and tainted transfusions in hospitals. The first reported case of Aids in China was in 1982. Three years later, the government announced the first death from the disease. Yet concerns persist that local officials are under-reporting the figures. The United Nations’ health and Aids bodies, for example, estimate that, by the end of 2007, 700,000 people in China were HIV positive. Local officials are thought still to be fearful of recriminations if their localities buck national trends. In the old days, sexually transmitted diseases were officially eradicated – the Communist Party’s grip on personal behaviour, as well as the gathering of statistics, was absolute.

But it took many years to start to undo the long era of suspicion. In 2003, Premier Wen Jiabao became China’s first senior leader to shake hands publicly with an Aids patient; not long after, President Hu Jintao was photographed embracing Aids patients.

News of the urgency of the AIDS epidemic comes shortly after news of the start of a national sex education campaign in China. From Reuters:

China on Sunday launched a national sex education campaign aimed at breaking traditional taboos and getting more people to seek treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and infertility.

Just seven percent of women and slightly more than eight percent of men seek immediate medical help for sexual problems, while more a third of people never seek help, said one of the campaign’s advisors.

“These numbers are shocking,” Xia Enlan, head of the obstetrics and gynaecology department of the Capital University of Sciences’ Fuxing Hospital, told a news conference. offers a human perspective on local officials’ handling of the AIDS epidemic. A description of the video, from their website:

In the early 1990s, villagers around central China were organized by local governments to sell their blood. But some of these village blood selling businesses were unhygenic and many villagers contracted HIV/AIDS. Angela Sun braves the wrath of local officials to visit a village in Hebei Province where 20% of the residents contracted HIV/AIDS.

February 17, 2009 10:47 PM
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