China has “drastically” cut the number of deaths from HIV-Aids by handing out free anti-Aids drugs in an example that could encourage other Asian nations to tackle the disease more forcefully, a study published by The Lancet medical journal has shown.
The death rates among HIV/Aids sufferers fell by 60 per cent when they were treated with anti-retroviral drugs, according to the study which was the first major assessment of a Chinese government scheme to hand out free anti-retroviral drugs.
China’s government launched the scheme in 2002 in a bid to restore public confidence after a scandal involving blood donations for profit left at least 250,000 innocent people infected with HIV in the 1990s.
The study praised the impact of Chinese government efforts to combat the disease and showed “the difference that can be made with high-level political commitment”, Hong Kong’s department of health said in *The Lancet Infectious Diseases.* However despite the reaching nearly 100,000 Aids suffers, China still has an estimated 740,000 people infected with HIV-Aids of which less than half have even been formally diagnosed with the disease, according to the World Health Organisation.
Ray Yip, the director of the Gates Foundation in China and an international HIV-Aids expert, said the *Lancet *study was really aimed at sending a clear message to other countries that were slow with dealing with HIV-Aids.
“We’ve known for 20 years that anti-retroviral drugs lower mortality rates, this isn’t news. *The Lancet* must believe that it is important to send a message to other countries to follow China’s example,” he told *The Telegraph*.
“China is seen internationally as a late-responder to the Aids crisis and this is a clear example of what can be achieved.” The authors of the study concede that despite the improvement, much more work needs to be done in China to improve Aids care.
“Given the size of the country, and the geographical spread of individuals with HIV…China’s treatment coverage is remarkable,” said Professor Fujie Zhang from the National Centre for AIDS Control, “But it is far from the goal of complete coverage of people who meet the treatment criteria.” Dr Connie Osborne, the HIV program officer of the World Health Organisation in China, said that while a 60 per cent reduction in mortality was welcome, it still was not “good enough”, since if AIDS sufferers were caught earlier, the figure could rise to 80 per cent or better.
“It is important to remember that the great majority of those people dying of HIV in China are still dying before they receive any antiretroviral drug treatment at all,” she added.
Official Chinese government data shows that HIV-Aids has topped the list of deaths caused by notifiable infectious diseases every year since 2008, with nearly 80 per cent of those dying from HIV over the last five years receiving no anti-retroviral therapy.
International health experts in China say they would like to see an significant increase in the amount and effectiveness of screening for HIV-Aids in China in order to pick up sufferers before the develop full-blown Aids.
However the difficulties were illustrated by another report this week released by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) which showed how mainstream hospitals were routinely refusing to treat Aids sufferers.
One HIV-positive man interviewed for the report said that he was denied medical treatment for his back problem because of his HIV status in hospitals in Tianjin and Beijing and was forced to leave his job in a steel firm after his boss discovered he was infected.
“The doctor said at our hospital, many patients need surgery, and if other patients get infected, it will be a very bad thing,” said the man, who declined to be identified.
“At the second hospital ... the doctor told me: ’I sympathise with your suffering but because of your status, I dare not operate on you’. I’ve visited many other hospitals and encountered similar denials and excuses such as a lack of equipment.”