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By Duncan Hewitt in Beijing
"The social and sexual revoltion has brought a dramatic resurgence in STDs"
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Monday, 6 November, 2000, 13:15 GMT
China battles sex disease explosion
Experts put part of the blame on China's sexual revolution
China has admitted that it is struggling to combat a huge increase in sexually transmitted diseases.

New figures indicate that more than eight million Chinese people have STDs - far more than the previously acknowledged figure of 830,000 - and that the number is rising by almost 40% a year.

China's medical services on the prevention of STDs and their control are trailing behind the swift spread of the diseases

Zhang Guocheng, STD Centre
Conservative estimates say there are about 500,000 HIV cases and experts warn that this number could double unless action is taken, particularly through public awareness campaigns.

Until now, China has downplayed the figures, saying that STDs are a Western problem.

But in a dramatic about-turn, a senior health official told the state-run China Daily newspaper that the country's medical services could not keep up with the spread of syphilis and gonorrhea.

China's sex education has been poor
Zhang Guocheng, deputy head of the health ministry's STD and Leprosy Control Centre, also said that many doctors had no real understanding of such diseases.

"China's medical services on the prevention of STDs and their control is trailing behind the swift spread of the diseases," he said.

Experts have pointed to the sexual revolution of the past two decades, a rapid rise in prostitution and extra-marital affairs and continuing poor sex education as explanations for the swift spread of STDs including HIV, which can lead to Aids.

Poor service

Another reason why the diseases have spread so rapidly in the world's most populous country is the rudimentary health system, authorities admit.

Most hospitals in China have no specialised departments or doctors, and therefore provide poor service, often at exorbitant prices, the China Daily said.

"Patients are usually too shy, because of the nature of their disease, to file complaints to supervisory bodies," it added.

Illegal roving clinics, often placing their advertisements in public toilets, also do little good, as they sell inferior or even fake medicine, the paper said.

Thailand's spending on Aids prevention puts China in the shade
While facing an uphill battle, the health ministry says it wants to attack the problem, and plans to set up a State Diseases Control Centre to oversee the management of STDs.

Mr Zhang warned patients not to resort to the legion of unregistered STD clinics.

Officials have said they intend to clamp down on the illegal clinics and have set up a new national treatment centre to tackle STDs.

The authorities are also attempting to clear prostitution from the major cities, but such efforts have in the past been short-lived.

The government spent on;y $2.75m on Aids prevention from 1996-1997, compared with $74m spent by the government of Thailand, $7.4m by India and $4.5m by Vietnam during the same period.

The BBC's Beijing correspondent said the about-turn by the authorities on STDs was probably forced on them through sheer weight of numbers, which made a joke of official figures.

He said: "They have gradually realised that they have a very serious problem and the government is very worried about it."

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See also:

17 Jun 99 | Asia-Pacific
China's youth wants sexual freedom
23 Jul 98 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese go crazy for condoms
01 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
China wages war on Aids
14 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Aids spreads in China
04 Nov 99 | Aids
Aids up close
08 Jul 99 | Aids
Aids worldwide
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