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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 July, 2004, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
China's premier issues Aids alert
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao
Wen called on the Chinese public to help stop the spread of Aids
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has acknowledged that Aids has reached every level of society in China.

In an unusually frank appeal, Mr Wen said the government needed to make fighting Aids its top priority, and called on the Chinese public to help.

His comments came on the eve of a global conference on Aids in the Thai capital, Bangkok.

Last week, the United Nations warned that 10 million people in China could be infected with HIV within six years.

China says it has recorded more than 800,000 cases of HIV/Aids, but experts say the real figure could be much higher.

'Serious epidemics'

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Beijing says Mr Wen's admission shows just how concerned China's senior leadership now is about the spread of the Aids virus.

40m people with HIV worldwide
30m HIV sufferers in developing world
400,000 HIV sufferers in poorer countries receiving anti-Aids drugs
China only admitted for the first time last year that it had an Aids problem, following years of denial.

"These last few years, Aids has spread very quickly over a vast area, causing serious epidemics in some parts," Mr Wen said in the People's Daily newspaper.

"The epidemic is currently spreading from high risk groups to the population at large," he said.

Mr Wen said Aids had spread most rapidly in rural areas, where most people live.

The government, he said, "needs to make the protection of the health of the population its top priority".

Last December, the premier shattered a taboo when he was photographed shaking hands with an Aids sufferer at a hospital in Beijing.

Slow progress

The UN's World Health Organization (WHO) has meanwhile warned that at least 100,000 extra field workers are needed to help with HIV/Aids treatment and education worldwide.

It's an inflated target that is totally unrealistic
Professor Joep Lange, co-chair
UNAids conference
In a new report, the organisation said inadequate infrastructures remained an obstacle to delivering treatment in many countries.

It is estimated that about 30 million people in the developing world - most of them in sub-Saharan Africa - are infected with HIV, the virus that causes Aids.

But less than half a million people in the poorest countries are receiving anti-retroviral drugs and other treatments they need.

The WHO has set a target of treating three million people by next year, known as the "Three by Five" initiative.

The WHO said it had made significant progress in the first six months but that work now needed to speed up.

However, the co-chairman of the UNAids conference in Bangkok, Professor Joep Lange, told the BBC the target was "totally unrealistic".

About 15,000 delegates, including former South African President Nelson Mandela, are expected in the Thai capital for the week-long conference beginning on Sunday.

The BBC's Karen Allen
"Great concerns about India and China.. where we are seeing huge increases in HIV infections"

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