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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 November, 2003, 00:16 GMT
Asian Aids 'ignorance' warning
By Alice Donald
BBC East Asia editor

An opinion survey commissioned by the BBC suggests that people in China are among the world's least well informed about Aids and the HIV virus. In the world's second most populous nation, India, the survey suggests awareness is higher.

The BBC survey offers little grounds for optimism in two vast countries with rapidly spiralling Aids epidemics.

Graphs and charts of the survey's main findings

The United Nations has given a warning that the HIV virus could sweep through China and India as it has in Africa, fuelled by ignorance and government inaction.

So the results of the BBC survey make for some disturbing reading. In both India and China, at least 10% of those questioned did not even know what Aids was.

And these were not people living in impoverished rural areas cut off from the wider world, but residents of major cities. In China, myths about how the HIV virus can be passed on clearly persist.

About a third of those who did know what Aids was wrongly believed it could be caught by using the same toilet as an infected person or sharing a cup or a towel. Those surveyed in India were generally better informed.


Respondents were also asked whether Aids was one of their main concerns. In China, the answer was an emphatic "no". Far more people said they were worried about other health issues.

A Chinese girl walks in front of Aids posters in Beijing
The Chinese are among the world's least well informed about Aids
This might be because the survey was conducted soon after the outbreak of the pneumonia-like Sars virus, which caused such alarm. It also reflects the fact that the Aids epidemic in China is rarely openly debated in the media.

The disease is also concentrated in certain regions and among groups such as intravenous drug users, which means that concern about Aids has not yet spread to the general population.

In India, concern was significantly higher. Almost a third of those questioned said Aids was their biggest concern, compared to things like crime, money, terrorism or other health problems.

However, Indian respondents had more faith in their government to deal with HIV-Aids. About two-thirds of those questioned in India thought their government was doing enough, almost twice as many as in China.

Overall, the BBC survey, which involved more than 1,500 people in India and more than 2,500 in China, seems to show that both India's Government and its people are facing up to the Aids epidemic more forcefully than their Chinese neighbours.

Concern is higher in India, and so are levels of awareness and satisfaction that the government has begun to deal with the issue.

The BBC's Linden Kemkaran
"Unless the authorities act quickly China's aids crisis could spiral out of control"

The BBC's Sanjeev Srivastava
"It's India's migratory floating population which populates the highest risk category"

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