News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

China to offer free HIV testing and treatment

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 22 April 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:975
  1. Nadeeja Koralage
  1. London

    The Chinese government is to offer free HIV tests and treatments to those who cannot afford to pay. The policy includes free antiretroviral drugs, testing, prevention of mother to child transmission, and schooling of orphans.

    Joel Rehnstrom, country coordinator of UNAIDS China, said he was “very encouraged by the commitment of central government in China to provide free testing and treatment.”

    He added, however, that there would no doubt be setbacks: “I believe it will be an enormous challenge to provide free testing and treatment across China. My sense is that every country in the world should probably have woken up earlier to HIV/AIDS. China is no exception.”

    UNAIDS (the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) has been involved with the scheme, including the development of guidelines for testing, voluntary counselling, and antiretroviral treatment.

    According to the state controlled Chinese media, the central government will fund the scheme in areas with a high prevalence of HIV—for example, Yunnan and Sichuan in the south west. Areas not covered by central government will be funded by local governments.

    China's vice premier, Wu Yi, told Xinhua news agency that the disease had shifted fromhigh risk population infection to universal epidemic.

    The Chinese health ministry estimates that China has 840 000 people infected with HIV,with only 10% of these identified. But UNAIDS says that without more aggressive prevention the number of infected people could rise to 10 million by 2010.

    Speaking from China, UN spokesperson Robert Dietz said: “There's a real problem here, and we are glad to see the government acting on it.

    “However, we are still worried about the situation at a provincial level. As you get further down the hierarchy, government officials need more convincing about how to tackle AIDS. They know it is very serious but are less open to the strategies needed to attack the problem—for example, by focusing on sex workers or men who have sex with men.

    “The indicator that we find most alarming is the growing number of women who are HIV positive. From similar scenarios in other countries, we know that when this happens the problem is incredibly serious.”

    The plan for free testing has been reported by the state media, and the health ministry has announced plans for free drugs and treatment on its website.

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