HIV/AIDS Awareness Is Improving in China
by Chen Shengli, Zhang Shikun, and Sidney B. Westley
Asia-Pacific Population & Policy, No. 69
The AIDS epidemic is one of the most urgent threats to public health in China. According to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there were an estimated 840,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in 2003, including 80,000 AIDS patients. Some observers believe that the number of people living with HIV/AIDS already exceeds one million.
First observed in coastal and border regions, the epidemic is spreading across the country. Between 2001 and 2002, the number of reported AIDS cases increased by 44 percent. By 2003, cases had been reported in 31 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities. Some have estimated that if infection levels continue to increase at the current rate, an estimated 10 million Chinese will be living with HIV/AIDS by 2010.
In addition to expanding geographically, the epidemic is spreading from high-risk groups to the general population. The main transmission route is through needle sharing among injecting drug users, but the proportion of sexually transmitted infections is rising–from 6 percent in 1997 to 11 percent at the end of 2002. Data from sentinel surveillance indicate that HIV prevalence is increasing among sex workers. Mother-to-child transmission of the virus is also rising.
Behavioral surveys suggest substantial ongoing risk to support further spread of the epidemic. Needle sharing is common among injecting drug users, condom use between sex workers and clients is low, sexually transmitted infections (which increase the likelihood of HIV transmission) are widespread, and there is continuing risk of infection through blood transfusions and other medical procedures.
One area of concern for the Chinese government has been the low level of awareness among the general population. Lack of knowledge is often accompanied by continuing risk behavior, limited adoption of preventative measures, and negative attitudes toward people living with HIV and AIDS. This issue of Asia-Pacific Population & Policy discusses a three-year information, education, and communication project conducted by the National Population and Family Planning Commission to improve HIV/AIDS knowledge and attitudes in China.