BEIJING (Reuters) - Unsafe sex has overtaken intravenous drug use as the primary cause of new HIV infections in China, suggesting that AIDS is spreading from high-risk groups to the general public, state media reported on Monday.
Of the 70,000 new HIV infections recorded in 2005, nearly half contracted the virus through sexual contact, the China Daily reported, citing a report released jointly by the Ministry of Health and the China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s the first time since 1989, when the first HIV infection was detected, for sex to top the transmission list nationwide,” the newspaper quoted Gao Qi, of the China HIV/AIDS Information Network, as saying.
China has an estimated 650,000 people living with HIV or AIDS, and while the government has become increasingly open about the problem, efforts to fight the spread of the virus are still hampered by conservative attitudes about sex and suspicion of grassroots activists and non-governmental organizations.
Surveys show that one in 10 sexually active men in China have been involved with prostitution at least once, and the government was taking measures to initiate condom use programs and AIDS education among sex workers, the newspaper said.
It is also focusing prevention efforts on gay men, who made up 7.3 percent of the new infections through sex.
A separate survey conducted by China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention found that although teenagers in China were having sex at an earlier age, 40 percent did not use protection the first time and they had little AIDS education.
“They know little about HIV/AIDS, let alone preventative measures,” the China Daily quoted An Jiaao, of the centre’s National Institute for Health Education, as saying.
HIV/AIDS became a major problem for China in the 1990s when hundreds of thousands of poor farmers, mostly in the central province of Henan, became infected through botched blood-selling schemes.