(CBS/AP) By the end of the year, China will have about 780,000 people infected with the AIDS virus - most having contracted it via heterosexual sex, state media reported Wednesday.
The Xinhua News Agency said a report from the Ministry of Health and the U.N. estimates there will be about 48,000 new HIV infections in China this year. The report says the virus remains "mildly prevalent" in China, according to the agency.
HIV gained a toehold in China largely because of unsanitary blood plasma buying schemes and tainted transfusions in hospitals. Health authorities say heterosexual sex has now overtaken drug abuse as the main route of transmission.
After ignoring or demonizing people with AIDS for much of the 1980s and 1990s, China's government in recent years has taken a more compassionate line on the disease and combating its spread. But people with AIDS still face difficulties in getting treatment.
On Wednesday, a handful of relatives of HIV/AIDS patients who contracted HIV through tainted transfusions planned to protest in front of the Ministry of Finance in Beijing - but abandoned the plan because of the tight security there.
Organizer Sun Ya said the group was demanding government compensation. Sun's 15-year-old son got HIV from a tainted blood transfusion in 2002 at Beijing's Peking University Dental Hospital.
Sun said he and others have tried to use the legal system to fight for compensation but courts have declined to take their cases, so they have resorted to protests in the capital.
Worldwide, 34 million people are living with HIV infection, according to the World Health Organization.
AIDS.gov has more on AIDS.