The number of people living with HIV/AIDS has continued to rise in China, according to new data, with health experts blaming lack of awareness, social stigmas and poor sex education in schools.
Some 654,000 people were living with HIV/AIDS in China by the end of September, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) revealed ahead of World AIDS Day on Thursday.
This was up from 575,000 last year.
Meanwhile, 201,000 died of the disease over the first nine months of the year, compared to 177,000 in January-September 2015.
This showed an opposite trend to the global number of deaths, which has fallen by almost half over the last 10 years.
A rehabilitation center treating people with AIDS, hepatitis B and other drug-related problems and diseases, organized publicity and education activities for World AIDS Day on November 29, 2016 in Jinan City, Shandong Province./CFP Photo
According to China CDC, sexual transmission accounted for 94 percent of infections in China, especially among young and older males. Cases of mother-to-child transmission and infection via injected drug use, on the other hand, were very low.
Many have thus pointed the finger at the lack of awareness about HIV/AIDS and the risks of unprotected sex to explain the continued increase.
Indeed, the number of students aged 15 to 24 who tested positive for HIV/AIDS over nine months has quadrupled over the past six years.
“At a sexually active age, (young people) are aware of HIV/AIDS but their limited knowledge of disease prevention has failed to provide enough protection,” Wu Zunyou, head of the National Center for AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Disease Control and Prevention (NCAIDS), told China Daily, urging schools to be more open and discuss the problem with their students.
Students attend a sex education class at Chengdu University, Sichuan Province on December 6, 2015./ CFP Photo
Maybe more unusually, the number of men over 60 with HIV/AIDS has also risen sharply to 13,000, about 3.6 times the figure from 2010, according to China CDC.
This population too, especially in poorer and more remote areas, needs more education, according to China CDC researcher Zhao Yan.
Some 97,000 new cases of HIV/AIDS were reported in each of the last two years. And China CDC estimates about 32 percent of infections in the country remain undetected.
Discrimination in China means many of those infected avoid HIV testing and timely treatment, Wu said, which in turn endangers their future partners.
This is despite China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission announcing in June that antiviral therapy would be made available to all those with HIV/AIDS free of charge.
At that point, only about 68 percent of those infected were receiving treatment, according to NCAIDS.
A vending machine selling HIV test kits at Southwest Petroleum University Gymnasium in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, is pictured on November 27, 2016./ CFP Photo
Ahead of World AIDS Day, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called for more efforts to tackle the epidemic.
Intervention needs to be more efficient, testing and counseling services more accessible, public education more targeted and follow-up services improved, Li said.
He also ordered “across-the-board implementation” of testing, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, medical assistance and other policy measures, while pledging funds for HIV/AIDS prevention and drug research.
Worldwide, some 36.7 million people were living with HIV/AIDS, while 1.1 million died of the disease in 2015, according to the latest data from the UN.