China to expand medical outreach to HIV patients
Updated: 2013-08-09 14:48
NANNING - When Zhao Hong (a pseudonym) and her husband tested positive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in July 2012, she was already three months into her pregnancy.
"We were just devastated, knowing that we couldn't afford all the medication and can't possibly give birth to a healthy baby," said Zhao, a 30-year-old resident of Zhongshan county in South China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
Shortly after receiving their diagnoses, the local disease control and prevention center told the couple that they would be entitled to free medical treatment, including medications to prevent the virus from being transmitted to the fetus, at an accredited local hospital.
Zhao gave birth to a healthy, HIV-free baby in February this year.
Under a pilot program launched in July 2012, the Zhongshan County People's Hospital began providing free medication, including antiretrovirals, to everyone who tests positive for HIV. Prior to expanding its medical outreach services, only AIDS patients with severe damage to their immune systems were eligible to receive the free medication.
In the one-year period ending on June 30, 2013, 110 people tested positive as HIV carriers in the county, including 10 who died. Of the rest, 90 are currently receiving free treatment, mostly starting within 14 days of the confirmation of their HIV status.
The pilot program has expanded treatment from 70 percent to 90 percent of infected people in the county, and the mortality rate there has dropped by 70 percent.
The program also closely monitors prostitutes, prison inmates and families in which at least one spouse is HIV-positive in the region, where sexual intercourse accounts for 90 percent of virus transmission, compared with 60 percent nationwide.
After seeing the success of the program in Zhongshan, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on August 2 announced its decision to expand the program to nine other provinces.
The program widens access to free medication to everyone with HIV or AIDS. To qualify for the free medication in the past, people with HIV had to take a test to prove that their body's CD4 cell count had been reduced to a level that points to a badly weakened immune system.