Sex and AIDS

Heterosexual contact will become major source of infection for AIDS in China, says report.

health and fitness Updated: Feb 02, 2004 19:44 IST

In the next few years, heterosexual contact will become the major source of infection for AIDS in China, endangering the general population and not just high-risk groups, state media Monday quoted a top official as saying.

Up to now, intravenous drug use is still the major transmission channel, while unsanitary blood selling from the mid-1980s to 1990s has affected farming regions in central China.

But with the increase in promiscuity and widespread prostitution, heterosexual contact will replace drug injection as the major cause of HIV/AIDS infections, Shen Jie, deputy director of the China Disease Prevention and Control Center, was quoted by the Xinhua news agency saying.

So far, most victims of the epidemic in China have been drug addicts, farmers who sold blood, people receiving transfusion from tainted blood and prostitutes.

But Shen said, and international AIDS experts have warned, that the disease can spread to the mainstream population unless China takes urgent measures to stop the spread.

"If we don't take effective intervention measures in the high risk groups in the next three to five years, the AIDS epidemic will spread in China broadly rather than in local areas," said Shen at a seminar held in central China's Wuhan city Sunday.

Shen said China now has 840,000 HIV/AIDS cases and is still in the low prevalence level. But high prevalence clusters continue to increase at a rapid rate among high risk groups like drug users and prostitutes.

He noted that prostitution exists in various forms in China and most prostitutes do not use condoms and have high-risk behaviour.

Meanwhile, many homosexual and bisexual men have set up families with females, which poses another threat to women and also to babies who will be infected through their mothers, he said.

Infection through blood transfusions has been basically curbed in China and will not pose a high risk for AIDS spread, Shen said.

But in some rural areas, irresponsible or ill-informed doctors in recent years have still used unchecked blood they buy from farmers for transfusions rather than blood from blood banks, which costs more.

International organizations, including the United Nations, believe China's official figure for the number of infections is far too low, suggesting it could rise to 20 million by 2010.

In recent months, China has appeared more determined to address HIV/AIDS, with Premier Wen Jiabao visiting AIDS patients in a Beijing hospital on World AIDS Day in December.

First Published: Feb 02, 2004 19:44 IST