- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 23, 2003

BEIJING — Ray Yip thinks China still has time to bring its burgeoning AIDS epidemic under control — but not much time.

Having worked in public health in China for more than five years, Mr. Yip knows the Chinese government has been slow to acknowledge its AIDS problem. He has seen the alarming spread of the disease, with the number of infected people growing at about 30 percent annually for several years. Without stronger efforts, the number of people with HIV is predicted to jump from an estimated 1.5 million now to 20 million by the end of the decade.

But Mr. Yip, the director of a new China program of the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sees the country as being in a unique position to avoid an AIDS disaster.

“The window to avert a catastrophic situation like in the African countries is still within grasp,” he said. “But this opportunity won’t last forever.”

With technical assistance from the CDC, Mr. Yip hopes China will be able to recognize and respond to the opportunity and thus prevent AIDS from ravaging the population and affecting China’s economic development.

China is the newest of the 25 countries where the CDC has set up offices under the Global AIDS Program, which was established three years ago and is funded by Congress.

Almost all of the 25 countries are in Africa, where 10,000 people become infected every day, according to UNAIDS. The other Asian countries where the CDC runs AIDS programs are Cambodia, India, Thailand and Vietnam.

The initial annual budget for the China program is $3 million. The CDC decided to set up an office in China partly because of requests for assistance from its Health Ministry. When the agency sent an assessment team two years ago, they found a serious AIDS threat and an inadequate government response.

“The apparently limited participation to date of government ministries beyond [the Health Ministry and the State Family Planning Commission] suggests that decision-makers elsewhere in government have not yet been fully convinced of the magnitude of China’s HIV risk,” the report said.

Mr. Yip and deputy director Bessie Lee started this spring, but the official opening of the new CDC office was this week.

“It’s another step forward in the public health cooperation between the two countries,” Mr. Yip said. “It is viewed as a significant landmark.”

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