- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2001

BEIJING (Agence France-Presse) — China has less than a decade before it is too late to prevent the AIDS virus from becoming an epidemic, a top U.S. medical official said yesterday.
Dr. Helene Gayle, AIDS director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said China must spend more money and educate more people to keep the virus from spreading beyond high-risk groups, such as drug addicts.
"I don't think [the window of opportunity] is a decade," she said at a news conference in Beijing, after talking to local health officials. "I think we're talking about a matter of a few years."
The urgency of the AIDS problem in China is caused by factors such as increased prostitution, greater sexual freedom and overall larger mobility in society as a whole, she said.
The Chinese government said last week that the country now has 600,000 people with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and hopes to keep the total number of people with the virus from exceeding 1.5 million by 2010.
Many independent observers believe that to be an underestimate of the spread of the virus, and several U.N. experts have warned of more than 10 million cases by 2010, if the virus remains unchecked.
Dr. Gayle said one of China's biggest problems is its huge population of 1.3 billion people, where even a relatively small percentage of HIV cases could mean millions of people afflicted.
AIDS has still not become an epidemic in China, as HIV remains concentrated in groups such as drug users and paid blood donors.
The Chinese government has previously insisted that most cases were from intravenous drug use.
Dr. Gayle said the AIDS menace will grow exponentially once the virus moves beyond high-risk groups.
China is conceding huge year-on-year increases in HIV and AIDS cases. In the first six months of the year, 3,541 HIV infections were reported, a 67.4 percent increase from the like period last year.

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