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Why does China suddenly have an AIDS epidemic

00:00 Mon 04th Jun 2001 |

asks Allan:
A.
HIV and AIDS have become particular problems in China because of a system that was set up in the early 1990s to buy blood in rural areas. It resulted in thousands of people being infected with HIV, particularly in the province of Henan.

Q. Why was the blood being bought
A.
It was collected by the local health authorities who sold it on to pharmaceutical companies for making blood products. It generated a lot of money for all involved.

Q. Even the people who were actually giving blood
A.
Yes, it was mainly poor peasant farmers who gave blood for cash payments - some even made a living from it. They got about �3 a pint.

Q. Is the blood still being collected
A.
In 1996, the Chinese health department issued new regulations and lots of small blood collection centres were closed down, but it continued unofficially.

Q. How was the HIV problem discovered
A.
The scandal was exposed by Gao Yaojie, a retired gynaecologist from the Henan province, who used her pension to print educational material. She was due to collect a humanitarian award at the Global Health Council in Washington, but local officials in China have prevented her from leaving the country to collect it.

Q. How bad is the HIV problem in China
A.
Impossible to calculate, although experts say that there are could be half a million cases now. In the Henan province, there are villages where 65% of the population are HIV positive. There aren't adequate facilities for dealing with the problem, and the state provides no medical care.

Q. Is the HIV problem as bad anywhere else
A.
This week, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called HIV/AIDS 'a global problem of catastrophic proportions'. Soon, India will have the highest number of people infected with HIV, with China close behind. By 2005, between them they will have a total of 10 million or more HIV-positive people.

Levels of HIV/AIDS have risen sharply in the US recently - as high as they were at the peak of the epidemic in the 1980s - and it's feared that the same thing will happen in the UK.

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By Sheena Miller

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