Annan: China Must Curb AIDS Spread
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HANGZHOU, China (AP) _ China has ``no time to lose″ in preventing a massive outbreak of AIDS and the crippling social and economic costs it would bring to the world’s most populous country, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said in remarks prepared for delivery Monday.
Annan’s plea for action, made in a speech to students at Zhejiang University, was the highest-profile appeal to date from the United Nations about AIDS in China. U.N. officials in China have consistently pushed for greater action from the government and warned in a lengthy report this summer that 10 million Chinese could have the disease by the end of the decade unless more is done.
Annan, on a two-day visit to China as part of regular consultations, made AIDS a central theme of his speech in this thriving eastern city. He is scheduled to travel to Beijing later Monday for meetings with President Jiang Zemin and Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan.
``For the truth is that today, China stands on brink of an explosive AIDS epidemic,″ Annan said, according to a text of his speech released in advance by his office.
``There is no time to lose if China is to prevent a massive further spread of HIV/AIDS,″ he said. ``China is facing a decisive moment.″
Failure to tackle the problem would saddle China with burdens ranging from an exponential growth in numbers of AIDS orphans to development-sapping loss of efficiency, he warned.
The speech _ and the awarding to an honorary doctorate to Annan from Zhejiang University _ begins a two-day China trip for him. He then goes on to Mongolia and five central Asian republics
Annan’s visit to China is part of his program of annual visits to the five permanent Security Council members, and is ``not linked to any specific current event,″ spokesman Fred Eckhard said last week.
The secretary-general’s trip was almost delayed by Security Council negotiations on a new resolution on Iraq. But after consultations, he decided to go ahead with the trip.
China has said the number of people in China infected with the AIDS virus will soar to 1 million this year, but claims the rate of new infections seems to be falling.
The Health Ministry says government efforts are helping reduce new infections, citing the supply of low-cost treatment and the cleanup of an unsanitary blood-buying industry blamed for infecting thousands of rural villagers.
China’s communist government denied for years that AIDS was a problem, but since last year has released more information. However, public awareness about AIDS is still low and top leaders are not known to have ever discussed the issue publicly.
Private AIDS activists have been locked up, and officials in areas where the disease spread through blood buying have harassed journalists and others attempting to publicize the issue.