The number of HIV/AIDS cases among men who have sex with men has increased eightfold during the past few years in areas of China, according to a study published recently in the journal Nature, Reuters reports.
The study also found that the proportion of women in their reproductive years who are HIV-positive has doubled during the past 10 years. According to researchers, this indicates that HIV/AIDS is moving from high-risk groups to the general population.
The study said that there were about 700,000 HIV/AIDS cases in China as of October 2007 -- an 8% increase compared with 2006. Researchers focused the study on China's Yunnan province, which borders Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam and has a history of opium and heroin trade. HIV/AIDS cases also have been concentrated among injection drug users in Yunnan, according to Reuters. The researchers examined 3.2 million blood samples taken between 1989 and 2006 in Yunnan.
According to the study, about 37.5% of cases in 2006 were transmitted through heterosexual contact. HIV/AIDS cases among MSM increased from 0.4% in 2005 to 3.3% in 2007, according to the study. The study showed that women now comprise 35% of HIV/AIDS cases in Yunnan, compared with 7.1% in 1996. According to the researchers, the fact that 90% of women living with HIV are of child-bearing age makes it "likely to translate into more vertical transmission from mother to child."
Cases involving IDUs decreased to 40% in 2006 from 100% in 1989. "HIV/AIDS is spreading beyond the high-risk populations, largely due to increased transmission through sexual contact," researcher Zhang Linqi, director of the AIDS Research Center in Beijing, said, adding, "It implies that HIV/AIDS is not only a disease that affects high-risk populations but the general population alike."
Zhang said that the changing demography of people living with HIV "makes treatment and vaccine development even more challenging" because there are different strains of the virus circulating in the region. He added that prevention strategies that have been proven successful should be increased (Tan, Reuters, 10/1).