China reports sharp rise in HIV cases


China has reported a sharp rise in new cases of HIV infection last year, highlighting increased incidence of the disease among the elderly and young students.

Official media reported a 15 per cent rise in the number of people diagnosed with HIV infections last year over the previous year, with about 100,000 people newly infected in 2014.

Wang Guoqiang, deputy director of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, was reported by Xinhua as saying the overall rates of infection and number of HIV/Aids cases remained at a relatively low level.

China had nearly half a million people living with the virus or disease by the end of August last year, with 70,000 of them newly diagnosed in the first eight months of 2014, official statistics showed.

On World Aids Day last December the World Health Organisation said the HIV epidemic among homosexual men in China was “expanding rapidly”. “Compounding the problem, many remain unaware of their status given the low rates of HIV testing among this population,” the WHO said.

Mr Wang said infections among the elderly and young students were rising.

Sexual transmission, which has become the main infection channel in China, must be curbed, he said. Mother-to-child and drug needle infection rates remained under control at a relatively low level, he said.

“Progressive and rapid actions in China have helped lessen the infection rate of HIV, the virus that can lead to Aids,” said Bernhard Schwartländer, the WHO’s representative in China. “We already see decreased transmission rates from HIV-positive mothers to their babies, and lower infection rates among injecting drug users who have access to more than 700 harm-reduction clinics across China.”

Transmission rates from HIV-positive mothers to their babies fell from 35 per cent in 2009 to 7 per cent in 2012, the WHO said.

But HIV-infected people still face considerable stigma in China, and this impedes efforts to diagnose and treat the disease, medical experts say. Local media reported last month that an HIV-positive eight-year-old boy in China’s western Sichuan province had been banished by residents of his home village who described him as a “ticking time bomb”. The child’s own grandfather and main caregiver signed a petition backed by 200 residents calling for the boy, who was abandoned by his parents, to be expelled from the village.

Stigma and discrimination “fundamentally undermine progress towards ending the HIV epidemic: because they stop people living with HIV from getting tested for HIV, and accessing treatment including life-saving antiretroviral treatment”, the UN said in a statement on the Sichuan boy’s case.

Beijing recently said it would introduce new testing methods at blood transfusion centres this year, after reports that a child was infected with the virus after getting a blood transfusion at a hospital.

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