China’s first documented case of HIV/AIDS was in 1985. The 1990s saw a rise of infections amongst drug users who spread the disease through contaminated needles. Unsanitary medical practices also contributed to the virus’ transmission in which many patients in need of transfusions were given infected blood. Medical practices have become much more sanitary since then, but the problem that now exists is a multifaceted one. Awareness is the biggest issue facing the spread of HIV/AIDS. A poll covering a cross section of the Chinese population found that 48% of people thought HIV/AIDS was contracted from mosquitoes.
This ignorance is not only dangerous to those who might be at risk of infection but can be debilitating for those who have the virus. Stigmas about HIV positive people are extremely common with many believing the disease can be spread by such innocuous contact as sharing a meal with someone or sharing the same work space. The issue prompted the government to enact anti-discrimination laws in 2006, but more time and education is still needed. The word has not gotten out amongst the public in large part because sex is a taboo topic and therefore not spoken of in schools or any other public arena. Many are unaware that HIV/AIDS is sexually transmitted, which affects high school and college aged individuals as well as middle-aged people.
Xinhua reports that as of October 31, 2009, nearly 320,000 people were registered as being HIV positive; however, an estimated 700,000 Chinese are infected. The New York Times reports that today 44% of the people in China who contract HIV/AIDS do so by hypodermic needle. Those at highest risk of getting HIV/AIDS are also those with the least access to education on the virus. In addition to drug users, it is those with lower incomes, rural people, migrant workers (who often visit brothels while away from home), and prostitutes who are at risk of infection. Many prostitutes do not have access to and/or cannot afford protection. This alone would reduce the spread of the disease. According to UNAIDS, between 20% and 40% percent of all those at risk of getting HIV/AIDS have no access to awareness programs, which could be as many as 50 million people.
The Chinese government and UNAIDS have been working together to fight the further spread of the disease and to offer better medical services to those with the disease, including free antiretroviral medicines for those who cannot otherwise afford them. The government has increased funding by nearly 300% at the central level to curb and control AIDS and approximately 500% at the local level. Additionally, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have publicly emphasized the need for more awareness and care for the sick. In November 2009, on the eve of Worlds AIDS Day, Xinhua reported that the President “pledged to mobilize the society to improve AIDS/HIV control.
Increasingly, NGOs and other international organizations have been given the go ahead to offer medical and emotional care to those who test positive. Xinhua reports that the government has joined forces with 276 international organizations and governments to combat the issue. One well-known organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (through the Gates H.I.V. prevention program), has taken the controversial approach of paying people to test their blood for HIV, about $9 per test and more if the test is positive.
Some corporations are also working to raise awareness and stop the spread of AIDS by incorporating it into their CSR. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector branch of the World Bank Group, published a briefing on HIV in China and has been proactive in dealing with the issue. The book emphasizes the impact HIV/AIDS has on businesses and how they can take steps towards changing fighting the virus and educating their customers and employees.
Although it will take time to turn the situation around, the current initiatives in place show the government’s eagerness to bring the situation under control and ultimately promises to change not only the way Chinese view of HIV/AIDS but also lessen the spread of other sexually transmitted diseases and the number of drug users.