China copes with AIDS, threat to blood supply
November 10, 1996
Web posted at: 8:50 p.m. EST (0150 GMT)
BEIJING (CNN) -- China is having to confront the
modern risks of maintaining a healthy blood supply after
finding a widely used blood product to be tainted with HIV.
The government has banned the product, serum albumin,
manufactured in China, after the AIDS virus infection was
discovered four months ago.
But Beijing faces the potential for a much bigger crisis: the
official number of reported HIV cases has been rising, from
502 reported cases in 1994 to 1,567 reported cases in 1995, a
As of August 1996, there were 4,305 confirmed cases of HIV
infection, though one well-informed international health
official estimated the real number to be between 100,000 to
Previously dismissed as an exclusive problem of non-Chinese,
the AIDS epidemic has spread rapidly for several reasons,
including a huge migratory population of at least 100 million
former peasants, a rise in prostitution and in pre-marital
and extra-marital sex, and an increase in the number of
intravenous drug use.
The government's challenge: how to educate China's hundreds
of millions, many of whom are illiterate and live in remote
areas, about the AIDS risk.
"That this is a very critical period right now," said Xu Hua
of the China STD & AIDS Foundation. "We believe if we don't
do our work well now, then the problem could become
The government, as part of its efforts, is producing
educational films about AIDS patients, to warn the public
that HIV is something that strikes average people.
A pervasive cultural aversion to donating blood is also part
of the problem. Clinics and hospitals must appeal to work
units, which in turn either offer incentives or use force to
get employees to donate their blood.
Another, less desirable option has been to buy blood, a
practice the government now wants stopped because of the
"When people sell their blood it's easy for the blood supply
to become tainted, because of the kind of people who tend to
sell blood," Xu said.
The kind of people Xu alluded to are drug addicts and
prostitutes -- those desperate for money, and at high risk of
carrying and spreading the AIDS virus.
Experts predict that in the very near future, the question
will be not just how many cases of HIV infection there may
be, but also how fast the epidemic will spread in the world's
most populous country.
Beijing Bureau Chief Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.
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