Beijing: AIDS deaths are believed to be peaking in China, especially among the large number of people infected with HIV in the infamous "blood-selling" schemes in 1990s, a senior Chinese health official has said.
The total reported number of AIDS deaths had reached 68,000, by the end of last year, Hao Yang, Deputy Director of the disease prevention and control bureau at the Ministry of Health said at the launch of the Tsinghua-Janssen Public Health Day on Tuesday.
In fact AIDS has become the country`s top infectious killer claiming the lives of 7,700 people in 2010 alone, official China Daily quoted him as saying.
The AIDS deaths are mainly from thousands of farmers who took part in government schemes in 1990 for blood donation for monetary gains.
"As those infected in the 1990s have developed full-blown AIDS, the number of deaths has surged," Hao noted, adding that poor drug compliance largely because of side effects added to the number of deaths.
Between 1992 and 1997, a great number of people in rural areas in the provinces of Henan, Shanxi, Anhui and Hubei contracted the virus through contaminated blood.
The official number is unavailable. Back then, agencies dubbed "blood heads" attracted poor farmers to become blood plasma donors by offering deals many thought were tempting.
Under the schemes the agencies drew patients` blood, extracted the plasma and infused the rest back into the donor without following proper sterilisation procedures. As a result many donors contracted HIV because of contaminated transfusion equipment.
In 2004, official statistics said Henan had more than 30,000 people who were infected because of the tainted plasma-selling schemes.
Zhang Beichuan, one of the country`s leading AIDS/HIV scholars, said: "That figure was definitely underreported".
To address the problems, the government cracked down on the illegal plasma-selling schemes, enhanced safety supervision and management of blood collection, and offered free medication to all patients.
Currently, China has about 740,000 people living with AIDS/HIV, including 140,000 full-blown AIDS patients, official statistics show.
Hao urged people with the virus to accept the free medication they are entitled to and the first-line antiretroviral regimen.
The government is making efforts to also provide free second-line drugs to those in need, he said.
The first-line antiretroviral regimen has helped reduce the fatality rate of full-blown AIDS patients on medication from 10.8 per cent in 2005 to 4.6 per cent last year.
Among the 100,000 patients now on medication, 20 percent have developed resistance and need second-line treatment to survive, he said.
"Good drug compliance worked well to delay the resistance," Zhang said.
He also urged people engaging in high-risk behaviour to take free screening for HIV at designated medical institutions because early detection is important in delaying the onset of the disease.
Despite regulations that prohibit homosexuals and carriers of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, from donating blood, some of them already infected with HIV are believed to have donated blood, refusing to declare their sexual orientation to avoid discrimination, Zhang said.
"That has caused sporadic cases of HIV infection among blood users," Hao disclosed, adding that widely used testing methods cannot detect HIV in the blood of people who have recently become infected.
In the past few years, men who have sex with men (MSM) have become one of the most vulnerable groups for contracting AIDS/HIV, experts said.
Among the 44,000 new HIV infections detected in 2010, nearly 13 per cent were infected through gay sex.
"AIDS/HIV became rampant among the MSM population which has an average HIV prevalence of 5 per cent nationwide," Hao said adding that the infection rate is 0.05 per cent among the general population.