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Friday, 6 September, 2002, 07:23 GMT 08:23 UK
China admits one million HIV cases
Chinese Aids victim
China is reluctantly acknowledging its Aids crisis

The Chinese Government has admitted for the first time that there may be a million people in China infected with HIV.

It is a significant increase on the previous estimates but still falls far short of those made by independent organisations like the United Nations.

Slowly, reluctantly, China is owning up to the magnitude of its HIV/Aids problem.

But at the same time, there are indications that China's most prominent Aids campaigner, who disappeared two weeks ago, has been arrested.



Public taboo

The realisation has dawned that China's Aids problem can no longer be hidden, and must be dealt with.

A year ago, the official estimate for the number of Chinese people infected with the HIV virus was 600,000. A few months ago, it was increased to 800,000.

Now the head of the Chinese Ministry of Health's Disease Control Department says around a million people are HIV carriers.

International organisations like the United Nations believe that is still an underestimate, and that China has an enormous problem on its hands.

Chinese officials are trying to be more candid, but at the same time, they are passing the blame on to provinces which they say do not report many HIV cases.

Local officials, they claim, do not want to admit that they are failing to control the spread of HIV/Aids, and they blame the carriers as well for being too embarrassed to come forward for HIV tests.

China is still highly sensitive about the subject. Those who reveal too much, risk being silenced by the authorities.

It now appears that China's best-known Aids campaigner is being held by state security officials. Wan Yanhai vanished a fortnight ago.

There has been no official confirmation that he has been arrested, but colleagues from the independent Aids Action Project, which he founded eight years ago, say public security officials have told them he is accused of spilling state secrets.

It is thought his crime was to refer to government health ministry documents in a recent e-mail he sent.

Mr Wan has campaigned to reveal the true size of China's Aids problem, exposing practices like the selling of contaminated blood. His organisation was banned in July.


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