While China is reducing its reliance on expensive imported medicines to treat people suffering from HIV/AIDS by developing its own treatment regimens, Chinese and foreign experts attending a national conference said on Thursday that the country still has much work to do to help people infected with the virus deal with the stigma and discrimination they face.
China has achieved breakthroughs in key technologies in HIV/AIDS prevention, such as domestically made tests, antiviral drugs and intervention strategies for high-risk groups, Wang Jianjun, a senior official of the National Health Commission, said on Thursday at the opening ceremony of the 5th National Conference on HIV/AIDS held in Kunming, Southwest China's Yunnan Province.
China has managed to keep the spread of HIV/AIDS at a low level, with strengthened HIV testing, effective control of HIV transmissions through blood transfusions and illegal drug use, Wang said.
As of June 30, China reported 820,756 people living with HIV/AIDS, and 253,031 have died from complications due to the virus. At the end of the second quarter this year there were 40,104 newly infected HIV carriers and AIDS patients, and 93 percent of the people contracted the virus through unprotected sex, according to data the Chinese Association of STD and AIDS Prevention and Control sent to the Global Times on Thursday.
China has made progress toward UNAIDS 90-90-90 target by 2020. The target refers to 90 percent of people living with HIV being aware of their status, 90 percent of people who know their status are receiving treatment, and 90 percent of people receiving treatment that reduces a person's viral load to an undetectable level.
In China, the UNAIDS target has reached 74-80-91 against the global average of 75-79-81, Amakobe Sande, UNAIDS Country Director, said at the opening ceremony of the conference.
Sande said that there are 36.9 million people living with HIV globally, and 940,000 people have died of AIDS-related causes.
More than 3,000 representatives from domestic and international organizations are expected to join the 4-day conference.
"For future HIV treatment, China should invest more in Traditional Chinese Medicine [TCM], as TCM has fewer side effects than Western medicine," Wu Yuntao, a professor at George Mason University's National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Disease in Virginia, told the Global Times on Thursday.
Developing TCM to treat HIV might reduce the cost of purchasing medicine from overseas, Wu said. He said that his lab has singled out a type of TCM that has a strong anti-HIV effect.
Sande also called on China to introduce more effective treatment regimens, as people living with HIV in China have to look outside China to purchase less toxic drug regimens.
Stigma and discrimination
Sande was also concerned that people living with HIV in China still face intolerance from society and are often denied access to employment, health facilities and educational opportunities.
"Ignorance continues to drive fear, and fear continues to fuel stigma and discrimination in China," Sande said.
Robert Gallo, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told the Global Times on Thursday that he has worked with many Chinese hospitals that care for people living with AIDS, especially those newly infected.
"Researching new anti-HIV medicine is good, but what matters more in China is social attitude, especially stigma and discrimination against the virus and people with HIV/AIDS," said Gallo, the co-discoverer of the HIV virus that causes AIDS.
Wu said that fearing discrimination, many HIV carriers and AIDS patients in China are reluctant to access treatment and some carriers won't even apply for medicines that are free of charge from local health departments.