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Migrant's risky behaviour in Chinese cities threatens to swell AIDS ranks
Fri Jul 22, 5:01 AM ET - AFP
AFP/File - Fri Jul 22, 5:01 AM ET A subway station AIDS billboard in Beijing. China's massive wave of urban immigrants represents the greatest danger in the country's struggle to contain the spread of HIV/AIDS, researchers at an international population conference said(AFP/File/Frederic J.Brown)
China's massive wave of urban immigrants represents the greatest danger in the country's struggle to contain the spread of HIV/AIDS, researchers at an international population conference said.
Vinod Mishra of the research company Demographic and Health Surveys said the disease had now broken out of the high-risk groups of injecting drug users and sex workers and was spreading through the general population in China.
"The growing migrant population in China may be the 'tipping point' in China's battle with the AIDS epidemic," researchers Xiushi Yang and Valerian Derlega of the Old Dominion University in the United States and Huasong Luo of Yunnan University said.
The growth of urban migration in China since the early 1980's has been phenomenal with census data showing a rise of 11 million in 1982 to more than 79 million in 2000 and an estimated 120 million currently.
Research by Yang and colleagues found that the risk of HIV infection among temporary urban migrants was much higher than for non migrants. They were four times more likely to have unprotected sex and twice as likely to have used illicit drugs in their lifetime.
They also found that separation from the social bonds of their village communities was a key factor in the migrants high-risk behaviour.
Urban migrants, mostly males in their late teens, live together at their place of work such as construction sites, restaurants and living quarters provided by employers or in camps on the city fringes characterised by poverty, overcrowding and lack of health services.
Mishra said China with 1.3 billion people and India with 1.08 billion were on the frontlines in the battle against AIDS because of their massive populations which meant that even small changes in the percentage rate of infection translated into very large numbers of infected people.
"You have to watch the big giants, they will never have the prevalence rates of subSaharan Africa, but in terms of the number of people infected they could be huge epidemics," Mishra said.
India has 5.1 million people infected with HIV representing 0.9 percent of the population, ranking second behind South Africa with 5.3 million in absolute numbers, the researchers said.
They said the number of HIV infected people in China is at 840,000 or 0.1 percent of the population.
Official statistics, which do not reflect the true magnitude of the epidemic, suggest that the number of new infections in China doubled or tripled year to year in the early 1990's and grew on average 44 percent between 1994 and 2002, Yang and his colleagues said.
"AIDS has evolved from being a perceived disease of foreigners to an epidemic that has affected every population group and geographical location in the country," the researchers said.
The dominant route of infection is through needle sharing while injecting drugs but sexual transmission is on the rise, reaching 10.9 percent in 2002, and represents the fastest growing source of infections.
UNAIDS estimates that if the current trend continues up to 10 million people could be infected by the end of the decade, creating serious public health problems, social stability and economic development.
Numerous studies in China and other developing countries have also cited migration as one of the most important factors leading to the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country.