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Thursday, 9 August, 2001, 04:51 GMT 05:51 UK
China admits Aids crisis
Graphic showing increase id Aids cases
The Chinese Government has made a tacit admission that it faces a serious Aids crisis in central China.

Aids in China
23,905 reported HIV/Aids cases
Health Ministry says there could be 600,000 cases
UN says China may have 10 million cases by 2010
For nearly a year, Aids activists, along with local and foreign media, have been telling the government about the extent of the Aids problem in Henan province, where perhaps hundreds of thousands of people have been infected with the HIV virus after selling their blood.

Foreign journalists who have visited the area speak of villages filled with despair, where half the population is either dead or dying.

Up to now, the government's response has been containment and denial.

Wenlou villager
Hundreds of thousands were infected with HIV when they sold blood
But now for the first time, it has admitted there is a problem.

The Communist Party says it has sent a team of health officials, including a vice-minister of health, to one of the worst-hit villages in Henan.

The party says a special clinic has been set up in the village to give 24-hour care to those suffering from Aids-related illnesses.

But the doctor who first brought the crisis to the world's attention a year ago called the government's action a "cosmetic gesture".

She says Aids in the affected area is no longer a disease that can be controlled by such measures.

Villagers have told how blood was taken from several people at the same time and pooled in one container, where the blood plasma was removed.

The remaining blood was then pumped back into the donors' bloodstreams.

Such unsanitary methods, plus the re-use of needles and unsterilised equipment, gave the disease an easy pathway to spread rapidly through the local population.

Villager of Wenlou in Henan province
Journalists report villages filled with despair
More than half a million people in central China are believed to have become infected by selling their blood to local government-run blood banks in the mid and late 1990s.

According to official statistics, China had 23,905 reported HIV/Aids cases at the end of March this year.

But Health Ministry experts say the number could be more than 600,000 and the United Nations has said China will have 10 million or more HIV/Aids sufferers by 2010 unless it acts decisively.

Aids activists have had pamphlets confiscated, Chinese reporters have been warned off the story and foreign journalists visiting the area have been detained by Henan officials, reporters and witnesses say.

The news echoes cases in France, Iran, Portugal, Italy and Canada where contaminated blood was used in transfusion, predominantly to haemophiliacs, who then contracted the virus.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield Hayes
"The Government's response has been one of containment and denial"
The BBC's Adam Brookes
first reported on China's AIDS crisis in May 2001
See also:

09 Aug 01 | Europe
Aids scandals around the world
31 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
China bars Aids activist visiting US
30 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Bad blood spreads Aids in China
30 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Asia's burgeoning Aids epidemic
01 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
China wages war on Aids
14 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Aids spreads in China
04 Nov 99 | Aids
Aids up close
17 Jun 99 | Asia-Pacific
China's youth wants sexual freedom
08 Apr 99 | Medical notes
Blood: The risks of infection
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