China giving free AIDS drugs to the poor

An encouraging sign, at last! It could be quite significant. From the NY Times:

The Chinese government has started providing free treatment for poor people with H.I.V. and AIDS and plans to expand the program next year until every poor person who has tested positive is receiving medical help, a top Health Ministry official said in a speech this week.

The speech on Thursday by Gao Qiang, the executive deputy health minister, confirmed anecdotal reports from AIDS sufferers in central China, who say health workers began handing out free anti-retroviral drugs several months ago in Henan Province, a region ravaged by AIDS.


Mr. Bekedam said the free drug program was the latest example of what appears to be a new, more proactive attitude toward AIDS taken by China’s senior leaders. This week, Beijing was host to one major international AIDS conference, while an AIDS meeting led by former President Bill Clinton will be held here on Monday. China also recently received a $98 million grant, largely to fight AIDS, from the Global Fund.

International pressure, especially after the SARS debacle, has apparently helped the leaders to wise up. They still face huge infrastructure challenges in dealing with the epidemic, and it needs to supply not only medication but education. With most of the people in China unaware of the dangers of AIDS and what they can do to protect themselves, the disease will continue to spread.

Nevertheless, this is a big step in the right direction.

Link via Radio Free China

Update: Adam has a good post on this topic as well. A little more pessimistic than my own, for a change.

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