Chinese president visits AIDS patients

December 1, 2008 12:00 am

, BEIJING, December 1 – Chinese President Hu Jintao visited AIDS patients here on Monday as part of a government effort to fight widespread discrimination in China that has been a major problem in tackling the disease.

Hu went to a hospital in Beijing to see the patients, following the launch on Sunday of a campaign being conducted with the United Nations to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS.

"Stigma and discrimination are major obstacles in an effective response to AIDS," Health Minister Chen Zhu was quoted as saying at the launch of the campaign at the Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium.

"We need to engage all sectors of society in China to combat these issues and work to stop the disease."

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao also visited AIDS patients in China’s eastern Anhui province on Sunday, telling them that fighting the disease was a government priority, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

The activities were timed to coincide with Monday’s World AIDS Day.

China has about 700,000 people who are HIV-positive, according to a previously released estimate by the Chinese government and UN health organisations.

However only about 260,000 had been officially identified as having the disease.

"It means that about 440,000 still don’t know that they have already contracted the virus," Wang Weizhen, a senior health ministry official, said on Sunday.

In the past year, unprotected sex has become the main mode of AIDS transmission in China, replacing intravenous drug use and injections, according to the government.

China’s state-run press, which for years gave little attention to the AIDS problem, carried front-page articles on Monday to raise awareness about the disease.

However highlighting some of the problems apparently remaining in China, a Belgian television crew reported being attacked last week while making a documentary on AIDS patients in central China’s Henan province.

Tom Van de Weghe, with the VRT channel, said he and his crew were attacked by eight men after trying to film in Shangqiu county where thousands were infected with AIDS in government-sanctioned blood drives over a decade ago.

Other locals told the journalists that the men were thugs hired by the local government, eager to contain publicity about the problems there, he said.

China’s foreign ministry, which oversess western journalists here, had no comment about the alleged beating.



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