China grappling with growing number of foreign AIDS patients

An increasing number of foreigners are receiving free medication for HIV/AIDS on the Chinese mainland, a health specialist said and warned that lack of "clear policies" on the issue could adversely affect the treatment of local population.

So far 8,366 foreign HIV/AIDS patients were reported till August this year from all over China, the National Centre for AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases Control and Prevention said.

Of them 200 foreigners with HIV/AIDS are receiving free antiviral therapy, it said.

Growing international exchanges are resulting in more foreign patients arriving in China and stay longer, Wu Zunyou, director of the centre, told China Daily.

But "we have no clear polices and Chinese nationals should always be the top priority, particularly with limited funding", he said.

Most foreign HIV/AIDS patients are living in Yunnan, Guangdong, Shandong and Fujian provinces, as well as in Beijing, Wu said.

Free treatment is only for Chinese citizens with case-by-case exceptions for foreigners, Zhao Yan, deputy director of the national center's AIDS treatment and care division.

More than 60 per cent of foreigners receiving free treatment were female.

"A great majority were women who had been living here for a long time and some even married locals and had children," she said, adding that many foreign women were trafficked over the border as brides.

Some came already infected with HIV while some were infected by their Chinese husbands, Jia said.

"Even without a legal permit to stay and a marriage certificate we still have to provide these people free treatment otherwise they could die and their families would be alone," she said.

Yunnan began free treatment for foreigners in 2009.

Since the province recorded its first HIV outbreak among drug users in 1989, authorities have reported more than 5,500 foreign sufferers, mostly people from Myanmar.

The numbers are increasing, Jia said.

"With a border measuring more than 4,000 km more foreigners living with HIV and AIDS will come to Yunnan for employment and business," she said.

"Given that this trend cannot be reversed, the government should make clear its policy concerning HIV/AIDS intervention among foreigners in China, including treatment," she said.

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