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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2006, 05:48 GMT
China's HIV/Aids cases jump 30%
Aids awareness among migrant workers in Chengdu of Sichuan Province, south-west China
There are fears of a serious Aids epidemic in China
China has announced a big jump in reported cases of HIV/Aids, officials and the state media have said.

More than 180,000 people are now confirmed to have the infection, a rise of nearly 40,000 cases in a year.

Authorities say the increase is partly due to better testing and reporting of cases, as the government has made tackling the disease a priority.

The figure is below China's estimate that total infections, including unreported cases, have reached 650,000.

Health officials also warned that HIV/Aids appears to be spreading from high-risk groups to the general public.

A total of 183,733 cases have been reported so far this year, up from 144,089 last year, according to health ministry figures.

The ministry has attributed 37% of the reported cases to drug abuse, and 28% to unsafe sex.

Officials say these two causes continue to pose the greatest danger, because effective measures to discourage unsafe behaviour are not yet in place.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, in Beijing, says China has the world's biggest sex industry.

More than 10 million young women are thought to work in the country's brothels, but by the health ministry's own estimates, less than half of them ask their clients to use condoms.

Another 5% of these latest reported HIV/Aids cases are thought to have been caused by people buying and selling blood illegally, or being given infected blood from hospitals.

HIV first became a problem in China in the 1980s and 90s, owing largely to blood-selling schemes and unsanitary transfusions.

Unreported cases

The United Nations Aids agency said the 30% rise reported by the health ministry is consistent with the rate of increase that China has seen in recent years.

A couple in front of an Aids awareness poster in Beijing
Experts say actual HIV/Aids figures are much higher than reported
"It's in line with what we have been expecting as part of an increased attention to and awareness of HIV and the increased availability of testing," Joel Rehnstrom of the UNAids China office told the Associated Press.

But experts warn that the actual figure for those infected with HIV/Aids is much higher than official statistics report - and that many people do not know they have the virus, or choose not to report it.

At the end of 2005, both the health ministry and the United Nations estimated that the total number of HIV cases in China was actually about 650,000, and that another 75,000 people were living with Aids.

Analysts say that after years of denying that HIV/Aids was a serious problem, the Chinese government has recently stepped up its fight against the virus.

The authorities are promising free treatment for the poor, prevention programmes and a ban on discrimination against those with the disease.

President Hu Jintao even appeared on national television in late 2004, to talk to people living with HIV/Aids.

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