The Chinese government on Thursday announced a 17 percent increase in the number of Chinese infected with the AIDS virus and sharply raised its estimate of the disease's spread.
There are 30,736 people confirmed to be carrying the virus and 1,594 people with full-blown AIDS, though the true number of cases could be as high as 200,000, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
The report said up to 850,000 people could be infected with the HIV virus, and 100,000 might have died from the disease.
The number of confirmed cases was more than 17 percent above the figure announced in mid-2001, while the estimate of people with the virus was more than 40 percent higher than the previous official estimate of 600,000.
The report noted that authorities believe China's official AIDS statistics are far lower than the true figure because of poor reporting by local health officials.
"Experts believe that over half of the 200,000 AIDS patients have lost their lives," Xinhua said.
The report added to growing official candor in recent months about the spread of AIDS in China after years of denying that it was a problem.
The most dramatic disclosure came in August, when the Health Ministry said the number of confirmed cases had jumped 67 percent in the first half of 2001.
Intravenous drug use accounted for 68 percent of infections, while poor sanitation at companies that buy blood accounted for 9.7 percent, Xinhua said.
That was the most specific official estimate yet of people infected by China's blood-buying industry, which is blamed for spreading the virus to thousands of poor, rural villagers.
Collectors bought blood from villagers, pooled it and extracted plasma — the liquid part of the blood sought for medical uses. Then, instead of being thrown out as is usually done in donations, the rest of the blended blood was injected back into the sellers, apparently to limit their blood loss.
In the village of Wenlou in the central province of Henan, the hardest-hit area, 43 percent of people who sold blood are infected, Deputy Health Minister Yin Dakui said in August.
Authorities in Henan have detained reporters who tried to find information about the outbreak and harassed Chinese AIDS activists who tried to publicize it.
China held its first AIDS conference in November, and a state-owned pharmaceutical company announced plans to produce low-cost anti-AIDS drugs.
Despite increased openness by health officials at the national level, many local leaders are accused of suppressing information about the disease for fear of acknowledging prostitution or drug trafficking in their areas.
By Joe McDonald
By Joe McDonald