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China AIDS sufferers face widespread discrimination: U.N.

BEIJING (Reuters) - People in China living with HIV and AIDS face widespread discrimination and stigma, with even medical workers sometimes refusing to touch them, according to a U.N. survey released on Friday.

China’s Health Ministry and UNAIDS estimate that the country has between 97,000 and 112,000 people infected with AIDS.

But more than 40 percent of people surveyed in a new UNAIDS report said they had been discriminated against because of their HIV status. More than one-tenth said they had been refused medical care at least once.

Chinese AIDS activist Yu Xuan, talking at a news conference to unveil the report, recounted the story of a friend who was refused an urgent operation because of her HIV status, and who ended up dying as a result.

“I don’t want people to have the kind of experiences I have had,” said Yu, who also has AIDS.

China has long faced a problem in tackling a disease which officials once refused to acknowledge, and where for many people taboos surrounding sex remain strong, limiting public or even private discussion.

Deputy Chinese Health Minister Huang Jeifu said the government would work harder to address issues related to AIDS stigma and ignorance, but admitted it would be difficult.

“The biggest obstacle is that there is not enough education or publicity about AIDS. Society does not know enough about the disease, and people think you can get it just from touch, talking, shaking hands or eating together,” Huang said. “This is a huge problem.”

The government will launch a video campaign to break the stigma of AIDS featuring Chinese and NBA basketball star Yao Ming which will be shown on 20 large outdoor screens in 12 cities, but will likely have their work cut out.

The survey found that some children with infected parents but who were not necessarily infected themselves had been forced to leave school.

“Many of the respondents knew who they could go to for support in addressing discrimination and taking action against those that violate their rights,” the report said.

“Unfortunately, the success rate when addressing problems encountered is very low.”

Reporting by Ben Blanchard, Editing by Dean Yates