Anti-AIDS Action Accelerates

By staff reporter HOU RUILI

TOWARDS the end of 2013, several foreign-funded AIDS prevention and control programs in China successively wound up. They included the five-year Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Global Health Program, which committed US $50 million to working in partnership with the Chinese government and non-governmental organizations to expand HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) prevention efforts, the Global Fund, the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative (CHAI), the China Global Fund AIDS Program, and the China-MSD HIV/AIDS Public-private Partnership.

This departure left China’s central finance with the task of supplementing the 30 to 50 percent of financial resources towards combating HIV/AIDS that these foreign foundations had contributed. Statistics show that in 2013, this department provided more than 90 percent of the funds necessary to maintain the country’s HIV/AIDS prevention and control efforts. Taking into account support from local budgets, these monies came mainly from China’s central and provincial governments. In 2003, the Chinese government started and gradually expanded the free drugs and treatment program for people living with HIV/AIDS. Reliance on the supply of medicine and treatment for HIV/AIDS in China has hence shifted from foreign aid to the Chinese government. In 2012 it indeed spent RMB 813.48 million on anti-AIDS drugs – 59.36 percent of the country’s total spending on combating AIDS.

Central and Local Governments Take Responsibility

Li Xiang is a hemophiliac from Jilin Province. He became infected with HIV in 1993 from the blood transfusion he received after suffering a gastric hemorrhage. Foreign institutes donated the anti-retroviral drugs he was first prescribed, but each batch contained different quantities, and there was no guarantee of consistent supply. Li’s situation was therefore precarious. Since expansion of the free anti-retroviral drug supply program in 2006, Li can be sure of fixed periodical doses of the drugs he needs. His condition has greatly improved, to the extent that he married and has a child. Procreation for people living with HIV requires close monitoring of the viral load in the blood until it reaches an undetectable level, to ensure that there is no risk of infection. Li, his wife and their one-and-half-year-old son now live as happy a family life as any young couple.

Bill Gates said in 2007 after arriving in China to expand HIV prevention efforts: “China’s epidemic isn’t necessarily unique from a medical perspective – other countries also face AIDS epidemics that are concentrated among high-risk groups but threaten to spread to the general population. What’s remarkable is how in just a few years, the government stopped overlooking HIV/AIDS and instead made it a top national priority.”

On May 19, 2013 at the 30th International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, the Ministry of Health of China released statistics showing that there are around 500,000 registered cases of people living with HIV and 380,000 of people living with AIDS. In the past 10 years, the number of patients in China receiving free anti-retroviral drugs has risen from zero to more than 200,000. In 2012, 100 or more million people underwent HIV tests.

China first went public with its epidemic status in 2003. The figures were alarming: they showed that there were 840,000 HIV carriers and 80,000 AIDS patients, making China the worst affected country in Asia next to India. People infected with HIV generally develop AIDS within seven to 10 years. Without timely anti-retroviral treatment their weak immune system makes them extremely vulnerable to disease, to the extent of not being able to fight off colds or flu. If AIDS were to continue unchecked, it could wreck a society within three generations, according to a World Bank report published that year.

The early epidemics were concentrated in Henan and Anhui provinces, according to Lü Fan from the National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention. The main victims of HIV infection were intravenous drug users and people who had sold their blood.

At that time, the Henan provincial government instituted free testing and treatment, and free schooling for AIDS orphans. Li Keqiang, then secretary of the CPC Henan Provincial Committee, announced that funds would be allocated to setting up city-level blood donation stations, in a bid to guarantee sources of uninfected blood.

Trials proved effective. In early 2006 the Chinese government promulgated the AIDS Prevention and Control Regulations. They constitute legislation on free testing, treatment, and anti-retroviral drugs for HIV-infected pregnant women to prevent mother-to-child transmission, free schooling for AIDS orphans, and living subsidies for AIDS patients.

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