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Sunday, 1 December, 2002, 10:15 GMT
China launches war on Aids
Chinese cyclists raise awareness of World Aids Day
China has only recently acknowledged its Aids problem
China has marked World Aids day by launching a campaign to stamp out its spiralling Aids problem.

In a sign of official acceptance of an issue which has long been ignored, a ceremony in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing inaugurated a project to send volunteers into the countryside to spread information about Aids prevention.

The newly married couple pose for photos
An HIV-positive woman was married in a state ceremony
A series of TV documentaries about the disease will also be shown on stations across the country.

In Beijing, an HIV-infected woman was married in a state-sanctioned ceremony in an event aimed at countering prejudice.

Elsewhere, in other events to mark Aids day, people in the eastern Indian state of Orissa, planned to unfurl a six-kilometre long banner to raise awareness.

Up to 60,000 people are expected to pack a stadium in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa for a ceremony.

The latest UN figures show 42 million people are infected with HIV or Aids - five million of them having contracted the virus in the past year alone.

Southern Africa remains the worst-affected region in the world, where 30 million people have HIV or Aids.

Stigma

China was warned in this year's UN Aids report that 10 million people could be infected with HIV by the end of the decade.


Stigma... isolates people and deprives them of care and support

Peter Piot, UNAids executive director
The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes says until recently Aids was treated as a disease of foreigners and drug addicts and there was almost no discussion of the problem in official media.

In its World Aids Day message, the UN warned that efforts to tackle Aids will not succeed until there is an end to the discrimination against those who are infected.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said the stigma attached to Aids remained one of the most difficult obstacles to fighting the disease because it suppressed debate.

"And when it comes to fighting Aids, silence is death," he said.

Human rights link

The human rights organisation Amnesty International echoed Mr Annan, adding that basic human rights were intrinsically linked to battling the spread of HIV - the virus which can lead to Aids.

Living with HIV: Region totals
Sub-Saharan Africa: 29.4m
South/South East Asia: 6m
Eastern Europe/Central Asia: 1.2m
Western Europe: 570,000
Latin America: 1.5m
North America: 980,000

The head of the United Nations' Aids programme, Peter Piot, warned that social prejudice towards people infected with HIV/Aids could be as destructive as the disease itself.

"Stigma silences individuals and communities, saps their strength, increases their vulnerability, isolates people and deprives them of care and support," he told an audience in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

He said nowhere in the world was immune from the effects of Aids and awareness had to be increased if the world was to have a chance of stemming the spread of the pandemic.

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The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
"Ignorance of Aids and how it is caught is still endemic across rural China"

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