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China Plans to Expand HIV Testing to Identify People Who Need Antiretroviral Treatment

June 30, 2004

The Chinese government plans to expand HIV testing to identify people in the country who need antiretroviral treatment, Vice Health Minister Wang Longde said on Tuesday, the Associated Press reports (Hoo, Associated Press, 6/29). The Chinese government estimates that there are 840,000 HIV-positive people in the country and that 80,000 people have AIDS; however, some experts believe that those figures are an underestimate. The United Nations estimates that there are at least one million HIV-positive people in China (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/17). Wang highlighted the need for HIV testing in Henan province, where hundreds of thousands of poor Chinese farmers contracted HIV through a government-sponsored blood collection program. "There is still a considerable number of people who donated blood who have not been tested," Wang said. For example, in the Henan city of Zhumadian, only 30,000 of the 74,800 people who sold blood have been tested, according to the Associated Press. The government has allocated $360 million for disease prevention and treatment, and local governments plan to provide an additional $770 million, Wang said. The government also has received loans and grants totaling $86 million from Germany and $100 million from Japan, according to Wang, the Associated Press reports (Associated Press, 6/29).

Glaxo Deal
Wang on Tuesday also discussed a pending deal between the Chinese government and pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline over the price of its antiretroviral drug lamivudine, which is sold under the brand name Epivir. Because the drug also can be used to treat hepatitis B -- which affects more people in China than HIV/AIDS -- GSK originally was reluctant to reduce its price, Mao Qunan, deputy director general of the health ministry's Department of General Administration, said, according to AFP/Yahoo! News. Therefore, the government agreed to purchase the drug directly from GSK to ensure that the discounted price is applied to HIV-positive people only, Mao said, adding that when the drug is sold as a hepatitis B treatment, it will be sold at market price. Wang said that the government plans to begin distributing the discounted drug in the third quarter of this year and hopes to treat 50,000 HIV-positive people by the end of 2005. The agreement is the country's first successful attempt to secure discounted drugs for its antiretroviral drug program, which previously had been able to distribute only older drugs that can cause serious side effects, Mao said, according to AFP/Yahoo! News. "We only have two to three treatment therapies right now," Mao said. About 1,000 of the more than 7,000 people in the country's antiretroviral drug program have stopped taking the drugs, many because of side effects (AFP/Yahoo! News, 6/29).

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