HIV/AIDS discrimination widespread in China: U.N.

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s efforts to prevent HIV/AIDS-related discrimination have failed to stamp out “widespread” stigmatization of sufferers, United Nations. officials said on Wednesday.

Subinay Nandy, China country director for the U.N. Development Programme, said China had done a “tremendous job” implementing anti-HIV/AIDS discrimination policies and legislation but enduring misconceptions were stopping sufferers from seeking treatment.

“We all will agree, widespread stigmas and discrimination in all sections of societal life here in China as elsewhere still exist at a very high level,” Nandy told reporters.

“China, in terms of the percentage of people and the number affected, (HIV/AIDS) is still not that big a problem ... but there is no reason to be complacent.”

The United Nations estimates that the number of HIV/AIDS sufferers in China is about 650,000.

But Chinese health officials have said the epidemic is spreading from high-risk groups such as sex workers and drug-users to the general population.

The rate of new HIV/AIDS infections has accelerated in recent months. While the average monthly figure for the first six months of 2007 was 3,090, the average over the longer January-October period rose sharply to 3,223, state media reported..

AIDS prevention groups have said that more HIV-sufferers were developing full-blown AIDS due to resistance to anti-retroviral drugs and a reluctance to speak out.

“People who feel stigmatized will not come forward or dare to seek medical treatment, and guidance, and by doing so put further fuel on the fire for the spread of HIV,” UNAIDS China Country Director Bernhard Schwartlander said.

The U.N. officials spoke at the launch of “Positive Talks” on Wednesday, a UNDP-backed project training 35 Chinese men and women living with HIV/AIDS to participate in “HIV-related advocacy, prevention, care and awareness activities” at schools, companies and hospitals.

“There is a stronger need than ever to reach the general public and humanize the face of the HIV epidemic,” Nandy said, but added that sufferers’ confidentiality still needed to be protected due to enduring social misconceptions.

Gao Fei, a Beijing-based HIV/AIDS sufferer with the “Positive Talks” project, said discrimination was still serious, even in the Chinese capital, where only two hospitals specialized in providing treatment for sufferers.

“If other hospitals see on your hospital record that you’ve been infected, they won’t treat you ... even if you just need treatment for the flu or a cold,” Gao said.