In the first 10 months of 2012, the number of new HIV/AIDS cases in China rose almost 13 percent, compared to the same time period a year ago. As premier-in-waiting, Li Keqiang promised nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) a larger role in fighting this epidemic. According to the Xinhua news agency, the number of people aged 50 and above who are HIV-infected jumped more than 20 percent. At the end of October, a total of 492,191 people were living with HIV/AIDS, including 68,802 new cases from 2012, Xinhua stated. Of the new HIV cases within the 10-month period, 84.9 percent contracted the virus through sexual intercourse, with transmission rates rising sharply among men-who-have-sex-with-men.
Li declared to the NGOs, “You have a greater understanding of what sufferers want.... The government will continue to offer support and pay even greater attention to and listen more closely to the voices of civil society groups, and you will be given greater space to play your role,” China’s state television showed pictures of Li shaking hands with sufferers in a country where discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS is widespread, even in the health care community. Li becomes the premier at parliament’s annual meeting in March 2013. Activists have criticized Li, however, for his work in Henan from 1998 to 2004, claiming that Li concealed the magnitude of the crisis there.
China’s government was slow to recognize the problem of HIV/AIDS in the 1990s, but Beijing has since accelerated the fight, launching plans to give universal access to anti-retroviral drugs to contain HIV/AIDS, spending more on prevention programs, and introducing policies to curtail discrimination. However, in a country where taboos surrounding sex remain deep-seated and discussion of the topic is largely limited, people with HIV/AIDS claim that they are often stigmatized, and activists complain that they are harassed.