China: New HIV infections increase by 15%
New HIV infections in China have increased by 14.8 percent in the last year alone, according to reports from Xinhua, the state-run Chinese newspaper. Wang Guoqiang, Deputy Director of the Chinese National Health and Family Planning Commission, stated that despite China having a relatively small HIV epidemic, there are significant increases in new infections in certain areas, and among key populations, such as older people and young students.
According to the most recent UN General Assembly Special Sessions (UNGASS) country progress report in 2012, China had 780,000 people living with HIV. With a population size of 1.2 billion, this represents a national prevalence of less than 0.1 percent among adults. Despite this very low overall prevalence, 70 to 80 percent of the people living with HIV in the country are concentrated among six of its 33 provinces. Originally concentrated among drug user, men who have sex with men, and blood donor populations, the epidemic has now spread into the general population, with heterosexual sex being the dominant route of transmission.
Despite the increases among students and older populations, the Chinese government have made significant efforts in recent years to scale-up the provision of HIV services, after an initial delayed national response to the epidemic. Wang stated significant progress has been made in the prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT), and also in the scale-up of antiretroviral treatment access. In the past year alone, an additional 85,000 people received treatment – up 21.2 percent from 2013.
Stigma about HIV remains a major issue in China – stemming from a lack of knowledge about HIV and how it is transmitted. In December, it was reported that an HIV positive eight year old boy was banished from his village, after a petition was signed by its residents, including his grandparents. This hampers the response, as it means that people are less likely to come forward for testing and access treatment.
Wang urged civil society organisations to play a key part in reaching marginalised and vulnerable populations with HIV services. He stated that China will be increasing efforts to curb new HIV infections by increasing HIV testing, reaching more women with PMTCT services, and ensuring blood transfusions are safe.