Today the Ministry of Health released its report on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in China, two days before World AIDS Day on December 1.
It says there were 223,501 registered cases by the end of October this year, 50,000 of which are new cases. Some 62,838 have full-blown AIDS.
However, according to an estimate by the health ministry, the World Health Organization and UNAIDS, there could be as many as 700,000 people in China infected with the deadly virus by the end of 2007.
The report claims there's such a big discrepancy because people are reluctant to come forward and get treatment.
That's because if they want treatment, they have to identify themselves, which easily makes them a pariah. Due to lack of education, others don't want to have anything to do with them and for some, the lack of social networks is worse than death.
The Chinese government claims it will step up efforts to educate groups like homosexuals, migrant workers and drug users. It has also promised to provide anonymous testing, free treatment for the poor and ban discrimination on those with the virus. But the situation hasn't changed much.
Xiao Dong, a gay AIDS activist in Beijing, is still struggling to do his grassroots work. He and his group go out to gay bars and hand out free condoms and talk to people about HIV/AIDS and how to practice safe sex.
He and his seven-member team only get 14,000 RMB (US$1,896) a year from the government. Xiao and his friends have shelled out 110,000 RMB (US$14,900) of their own money to keep their organization going.
So, if the government really wants to get tough on fighting HIV/AIDS, it really should be doling out funds to grass roots groups like Xiao's. They're the ones who are really out there pounding the pavement and reaching out to a sector of the population that is vulnerable to the virus.
The government also needs to change its attitude about HIV/AIDS so that more people won't be afraid to get the help they need.