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Human rights group: China's denial of AIDS problem propels HIV/AIDS spread

HONG KONG — China is fueling the spread of AIDS by refusing treatment and information about the disease and by failing to hold officials accountable for a blood-selling scandal blamed for infecting thousands of people, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.

Brad Adams, Asia division director of the New-York based Human Rights Watch, released a report in Hong Kong about people living with HIV or AIDS in China.

It found Chinese with HIV or AIDS face heavy discrimination. Laws in some places ban them from public swimming pools or from working in food services, it said.

"The Chinese government has been in denial about the problem for many years," Adams said.

The report was based on interviews with patients, drug users, police officers and others in Beijing, Yunnan province and Hong Kong in 2002 and 2003.

Officials estimate that about 1 million Chinese carry the virus called HIV, and say it has begun to pass from high-risk groups such as drug addicts and prostitutes into the general population.

But Adams said his group believes the number could actually be up to "many millions."

According to the report, some HIV or AIDS have to contend with a lack of access to health care, or with restrictions on gathering and spreading information about the illness, the report said.

"Discrimination is forcing many people to live as outcasts, and the Chinese government tolerates it instead of combatting it," Adams said. "This is sure to make the AIDS crisis worse."

The group urged China to provide accurate figures on the numbers of patients. It also demanded China scrap discriminatory laws, end arbitrary detention of intravenous drug users in forced detoxification centers, and establish national AIDS training programs for health care workers.

It also called on Beijing to authorize an independent criminal investigation into local officials' alleged involvement in a blood-selling scandal across seven central China provinces — Anhui, Hebei, Shandong, Henan, Hubei, Shanxi and Shaanxi.

Dealers bought blood from villagers and pooled it — thus mixing healthy blood with HIV-infected blood — and extracted plasma, a blood component with medical uses, according to the report. They then re-injected the rest of the blood back into those who sold it.