November 02, 2005

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China AIDS estimate

Bates Gill is not just a spoonerism of the world' richest man. He is a noted expert on China and amongst other things, the HIV/AIDS problem in China. Meanwhile China has a well-known penchant for fiddling statistics, especially as many public servants are measured by these statistics. Worst of all, often the same person compiles the numbers they are measured by. But sometimes this can hide positive trends for fear of ridicule. The SCMP reports on Bates Gill's observations:

Beijing may be keeping new estimates of the number of HIV infections on the mainland secret because they are lower than previously published figures and could undermine the government's credibility...This could be the reason why the official HIV figure had remained at 840,000 for the past two years, said Bates Gill, a China expert at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

"What I've heard is that with further modelling and more fine-tuning of their approaches, they now ... have come to the conclusion that the number may be actually lower than 840,000," he told a briefing in Beijing. The new estimate had not been made public because of concern about the political impact of such an announcement, he said.

"Clearly the immediate reaction might be, `Oh my God, they really are meddling with the numbers and they're trying to put forward a picture which is less serious than it actually is'," Mr Gill said...

The estimate of 840,000 HIV-positive cases was arrived at using modelling techniques, and was the result of a co-operative effort between China, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids. The central government had only directly diagnosed HIV in 120,000 people, said Mr Gill, who regularly travels to the mainland to meet Ministry of Health and other senior government officials. "What I'm saying is that nine out of 10 people or so in China today - according to the government's own statistics - who are HIV positive don't know it," he said. "And the government doesn't know who they are or where they are."

So there's good news, but we can't be told about it. That aside, the main issue is the one I've put in bold in the quote: dealing with the potential for a wider HIV/AIDS epidemic in China. Forget about bird flu. The stigma of AIDS, combined with old fashioned values and widespread ignorance, means China is at the cusp of a potential widespread problem. A problem that can be prevented if the political will is there.

Bird flu has pushed AIDS far from the front page, so in that sense it has already started affecting human health.

posted by Simon on 11.02.05 at 09:20 AM in the China food/environment/health category.


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