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Monday, 28 August, 2000, 21:29 GMT 22:29 UK
China tackles used syringe trade
The WHO says half of all injections in China may be unsafe
By Rupert Wingfield-Hayes

China has launched a campaign to try and stamp out a rampant illegal trade in recycled medical syringes.

According to state-run media, all hospitals throughout the country have been ordered to make sure that discarded syringes are destroyed so they cannot be sold and recycled.

The illegal trade in syringes and blood products in China is seriously threatening the government's ability to prevent the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B.

The report indicates just how much difficulty the Chinese Government is having in regulating the country's crumbling health-care system.

Hazardous injections

The World Health Organization estimates that as many as 50% of injections given in China may be unsafe, mainly because of the use of recycled syringes.

Condom advertisement in China
Condom advertisements are designed to curb the spread of HIV
It is one reason why more than 10% of China's population are thought to be carriers of the hepatitis B virus - a figure higher even than sub-Saharan Africa.

Even more worrying is the effect such illegal recycling of syringes could have on the spread of the HIV virus that causes Aids.

The government has not said how widespread it believes the problem to be, but the market for such medical equipment runs into billions of US dollars.

In one case alone, police in eastern China recently seized and destroyed 10 tonnes of used syringes.

Health system in chaos

The break-up of China's old centrally-controlled economy has left its health-care system in chaos and hospitals desperately short of cash.

It has led to the growth of an underground market in all sorts of medical products.

Last year the government had to ban hospitals from paying for donated blood after a number of patients were infected with the HIV virus from blood transfusions.

It turned out that the blood had come from illegal blood banks. It had not been screened, and many of the donors were intravenous drug-users.

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See also:

05 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
China Aids warning
23 May 00 | Health
China battles obesity
02 Dec 99 | Health
China bans condom advert
06 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
China's drugs boom
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