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Last Updated: Monday, 1 December, 2003, 08:23 GMT
China premier makes Aids visit

By Louisa Lim
BBC correspondent in Beijing

The Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, has marked World Aids Day by visiting people with Aids in a Beijing hospital.

It is the first time a Chinese leader has so publicly associated themselves with the fight against HIV/Aids.

China admits to having more than 800,000 cases of HIV/Aids, but experts say the real figure could be higher.

Aids awareness rally in China, 2002
China is slowly waking up to its Aids crisis
Aids activists in China say Mr Wen's visit is a landmark step in the fight against Aids.

Staff working in the hospitals say he visited for about an hour and talked to three people with Aids.

It is a clear sign that the leadership has woken up to the threat posed by the disease.

For many years, China saw Aids as primarily a foreigners' disease, despite the fact that tens of thousands of Chinese people were infected with HIV in the mid-90s through illegal blood selling operations in central China.

Ignorance continues

But commitment from the top does not necessarily translate into real help for people with Aids.

China's health system has been decentralised to the extent that provincial level officials may still have to be convinced of the need for action.

Many of them fear admitting an Aids problem in their province could have an impact on inward investment.

And when it comes to public education, there is still a long way to go.

A survey released over the weekend indicates that one in four Chinese in the countryside have never heard of Aids, and only one in five people surveyed knew that HIV could be transmitted through sex.

The BBC's Tony Cheng
"In China, the government has finally admitted it has a problem"


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