|WHO's AIDS focus misses
By Iris Tsang
- Today nothing obsesses the World Heath Organization
(WHO) more than the global AIDS plague, and with good
reason. The latest report, ringing the alarm of a
"global health emergency", says millions of sufferers
receive no treatment at all. With its hands full in
Africa alone, the organization hardly spares a minute to
"To deliver antiretroviral
treatment to the millions who need it, we must change
the way we think and change the way we act," Dr Lee
Jong-wook, director general of the Geneva-based health
body, told a high-level meeting Monday, during the UN
General Assembly, on AIDS and the human immunodeficiency
virus (HIV) that causes it . "Business as usual will not
work. Business as usual means watching thousands of
people die every single day."
WHO and the Joint
United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) are also
renewing their commitment to meeting an ambitious "3 by
5" target: providing antiretroviral medicines to 3
million people by the end of 2005.
WHO statistics, some 6 million people in developing
countries have HIV infections that require
antiretroviral treatment. But fewer than 300,000 are
being treated. In sub-Saharan Africa, where most of the
people in need of treatment live, only about 50,000 are
It is only natural for the health
body to address the problem that HIV/AIDS victims do not
receive proper treatment, since one of its
responsibilities is to promote the health status of
human beings. Yet, based on the contents of its
statement and other relevant reports, the WHO seems to
place top priority on Africa and turns a blind eye to
the impact of this epidemic on Asia, especially China,
the world's most populous country, with millions of
Let there be no doubt, AIDS
is spreading across the continent of Africa with
significant momentum. Nonetheless, China's own problem
also demands attention and effort. According to experts,
several million Chinese infected with HIV do not receive
proper treatment, which endangers their own lives and
their families' as well.
HIV-affected region is Henan province in the central of
the country. Henan has a population of closed to 100
million, the greatest of any province in China. It also
has the largest number of HIV/AIDS sufferers. The
authorities put the number of Henan residents infected
with HIV at 370,000, but independent sources put the
figure much higher.
One thing contributes much
to such a devastating situation: unsafe blood-selling
practices. Before 1998, selling blood for money was
legal in China. Since many rural Henan residents could
not make a living from their harvests, they resorted to
selling their blood. In most cases, the equipment used
in the transfusion process was not thoroughly sterilized
and a small proportion of transfused blood could reflow
into the body, leading to cross-infection among the
blood-sellers and increasing the spread of HIV.
Dr Gao Yaojie, a pioneer in China's campaign
against AIDS, claimed as early as 2001 that in Henan's
Shangcai county alone, the number of HIV carriers was
not less than 10,000. This was only the number
recognized by local officials, and it is hard to
estimate the total number for the whole province.
Gao called Shangcai the "county of AIDS", but
the situation in nearby Xincai county is much worse. In
addition, other places like Zhoukou, Nanyang, Xinyang,
Kaifeng, Shangqiu, Luohe, Xuchang, Pingdingshan and Hebi
witness the same situation. "I suppose not a region in
the province is AIDS-free," remarked Gao.
though not every county in Henan is as unfortunate as
Shangcai and Xincai, the situation is gloomy. Besides
Henan, provinces such as Guizhou, Yunnan, Guangdong, and
Guangxi have been plagued with the same headache.
Moreover, for many years Beijing has been
unwilling to release accurate statistics on the spread
of HIV/AIDS or carry out strict supervision, according
to some AIDS experts. In light of that, leaders in some
AIDS-stricken regions try to conceal the truth instead
of taking effective actions. Thus the official number of
HIV/AIDS patients is deemed conservative.
other hand, monetary injection on health care does not
accord with sustaining economic growth. Consequently
urban AIDS institutions are hindered by a lack of funds
and rural public facilities offer almost no AIDS-related
health care. Private facilities are not capable of
dealing with AIDS on their own, and the few that are
capable are open to the rich only.
year, AIDS funding from Beijing has jumped from 15
million to 100 million yuan (US$12.1 million); a special
allocation of 22 million yuan for three consecutive
years will be put into treatment of HIV/AIDS patients in
Henan and other regions where the infection is rampant.
Even though the sum seems a drop in the ocean, it's
better than nothing.
To trust or not to trust
China's official data of AIDS patients is an issue for
the WHO, while the task of getting serious about
eradicating the disease once and for all is China's.
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