BEIJING (AP) - China opened its first conference on AIDS
Tuesday, promising to dedicate more resources to fighting the
disease and to spread information into the vast nation's every
corner - from government officials in Beijing to residents of
the tiniest villages.
More than 2,700 participants from 20 nations - doctors, social
policy experts, educators and Chinese government officials -
are participating in the four-day conference, which also will
explore ways to reduce other sexually transmitted diseases
across the country.
The goal: to slow the growth of new infections to 10 percent
per year by 2005. Experts estimate that more than 600,000
Chinese - in a population of 1.26 billion - had been infected
by HIV by the end of 2000.
"This is an opportunity to explore the way forward," Zhu
Zhongshan, head of the Beijing Health Department, said in an
address at the opening ceremony.
Participants - from besuited bureaucrats to military men to
stylish youths in black turtlenecks and leather - filled the
Beijing International Convention Center with the looped red
ribbons that have come to symbolize the worldwide fight against
Also in evidence: kiosks promoting everything from
sterilization equipment to condoms, advertised rather
incongruously with outsized cartoons deployed near a large
Chinese flag. Inside the auditorium, next to moody
public-service ads depicting the dangers of unprotected sex in
the big city, slides flashed China's new slogans: "AIDS: I
care, do you?" and "Together, we can."
AIDS has long been a reluctant subject of the Chinese
government, critics say. But alarm over the disease's 30
percent annual growth rate is changing attitudes.
In mid-August, Vice Health Minister Yin Dakui chided local
officials for not recognizing the dangers of AIDS. China faces
"a very serious epidemic of HIV-AIDS," he warned at a rare news
conference. And the official Xinhua News Agency described this
week's conference as an effort to "spur vigilance against the
disease in all corners of Chinese society."
Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS , the U.N. program on
HIV/AIDS, praised the Chinese government's initiative as
indicative of progress and "an important source of hope for
future response to the epidemic." But solid actions must follow
good words, he said.
"It is probably not an exaggeration to say this is a historic
event in terms of response to AIDS in China," Piot said. "But
all this is clearly not enough yet. ... There is still a need
to break the silence about AIDS in all levels of society and in
all places in the whole country."
Needle sharing by intravenous drug users established the
disease in China, and the flourishing sex trade has fanned it,
the government says.
Officials also say health authorities failed to protect the
blood supply in some areas, causing the disease to spread in
The national conference, which runs through Friday, will
discuss government policies on prevention and treatment, health
education and cooperation between different government