China says estimated HIV/AIDS cases rise to 700,000
China is estimated to have about 700,000 HIV/AIDS cases, with tens of thousands of new infections each year, the government said Thursday, but activists warned the problem was far greater.
"The result of estimates is that at the end of 2007, China will have about 700,000 HIV/AIDS cases, and 85,000 with AIDS," Health Minister Chen Zhu told a press conference in Beijing.
Chen said there were an estimated 50,000 new HIV infections in 2007, when 20,000 people died from AIDS, figures he described as a slightly better than previous years.
"The upward trend of AIDS disease has slowed, but we should still strengthen our work," Chen said.
The health ministry said there were 223,501 confirmed HIV/AIDS cases in China at the end of last month. This compares with 183,733 cases reported at the same time last year.
The latest figures were based on work carried out by the Chinese government, the United Nations and the World Health Organisation.
In January last year, the three sides said there were an estimated 650,000 people with HIV/AIDS, following similar research carried out together.
But independent AIDS activists have long warned that these figures underestimate the rampant spread of the disease.
"We believe the actual figures far exceed these official estimates," said activist Hu Jia.
Hu said provincial authorities tended to under-report the real figures to the central government, which still banned third parties from carrying out independent investigations.
"In fact, during the past two years, local governments have stepped up their crackdowns on the grass-roots non-government organisations... they are not willing to have them witness the AIDS situation," he said.
Another leading AIDS campaigner, Wan Yanhai, has previously said the number of people suffering from the disease in China could be 10 times higher than official estimates.
The health ministry on Thursday said heterosexual contact was a top cause of new infections in 2007, accounting for 44.7 percent.
Intravenous drug abuse caused 42 percent of the infections, and sex between men 12.2 percent, while 1.1 percent of the cases happened because infected mothers passed it on to their unborn children, the ministry said.
But Hu said the official statistics announced omitted infections through unsafe blood transfusions, especially those at public hospitals, possibly because the government was nervous about facing up to its responsibility.
Thousands of people, mainly uneducated peasants, were infected mainly in Henan province during the 1990s through tainted blood transfusions at illegal blood collection stations.
Gao Yaojie, a retired doctor and veteran Chinese AIDS activist, told AFP in an interview earlier this week that the deadly practice was still going on despite government attempts to eradicate it.
"Farmers sell blood because they are too poor to make a living and pay school fees for their kids and so on," Gao said from Henan province.
Accurate AIDS statistics are hard to come by in China, mainly because of huge size of the country and the lack of transparency.