China faces a tragic surge in HIV/AIDS cases unless it curbs the spread of the disease among the vast country’s transient rural workforce, a Chinese health expert said on Thursday.
Wan Shao Ping, a medical doctor and project officer with the China-UK HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care Project in southwestern Sichuan province, said poorly educated migrant workers had highly risky sexual practices.
Wan told a health seminar in Hong Kong that there were at least 100 million such workers in China.
“The Chinese government is now putting a lot of attention on HIV/AIDS but we have to focus on the most risky group, this floating population,” Wan told.
“Otherwise, they will carry the virus all over the country and it will cause a tragedy in China’s public health system.
“According to surveys, 10 percent to 48 percent of males in this floating population exhibit highly risky sexual behaviour,” Wan said, adding that they often visited prostitutes.
“And in this risky group of males, 70 percent have never used condoms,” he said, adding that most of them were unaware of the dangers of HIV and AIDS.
Among the women, many often resort to becoming sex workers when they cannot find other work.
“These women have up to four customers a day. They spread the virus and the men take the virus all over the country,” Wan said.
“So their threat to China’s HIV/AIDS problem is huge.”
Although China’s official estimate of 840,000 HIV/AIDS cases has raised eyebrows among international health experts, the country has recently paid more attention to the epidemic after ignoring it for years.
It has sent teams of counsellors to villages across the country to teach safe sex. But Wan said that was not enough and that more effort must be put into educating migrant workers.
Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD