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Study: Misconceptions "Still Cause AIDS Stigma" in China


Public misconceptions surrounding AIDS in China still cause discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS, a United Nations official said on Tuesday.

This situation means that many people are unwilling to live in the same household, have meals or work with an HIV-positive person, which should be a cause of concern, said Bernhard Schwartlander, UNAIDS China Country Coordinator.

He was commenting on the results of a survey of AIDS-related knowledge and behavior among the Chinese, which indicated that misconceptions and discrimination remain serious despite years of public education efforts.

The survey of more than 6,000 students, white- and blue-collar workers and migrant workers found 48 percent still believe that a mosquito bite can transmit the AIDS virus.

The survey was jointly conducted by the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, the China HIV/AIDS Media Partnership, Renmin University and UNAIDS.

The interviews were conducted in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Wuhan, Zhengzhou and Kunming.

Although 80 percent of the respondents know HIV can be transmitted through contaminated syringes or unprotected sex, 18 percent thought they could contract HIV by having an HIV-positive person sneeze or cough on them, which is not true.

Sixteen percent still believed they could get infected by sharing a cup or eating with an HIV-positive person.

Thus, nearly 65 percent of the interviewees said they did not want to live in the same household with an HIV-positive person, 47.8 percent of the respondents would be unwilling to have meals with, and 41.3 percent would be unwilling to work with an HIV-infected person.

While 57.9 percent thought HIV-positive students should be allowed to study with healthy students, 30 percent objected to the idea.

Asked about their attitude toward a family member who is infected, nearly 16 percent said they would no longer contact or speak to the person, although more than half said they would encourage the person to seek treatment and support.

"These data are really a cause for concern," said Schwartlander. "We see that there are still many misconceptions around AIDS among the population, which contribute to stigma and discrimination."

As of the end of 2007, there were about 700,000 people living with HIV in China, according to statistics of the Ministry of Health. It is estimated that 85,000 of them have developed AIDS.

Sexual transmission has become the most common means of HIV infections in China. But the survey found that nearly 30 percent did not know how to use a condom correctly, and only 19 percent said they would use a condom if they had sex with a new partner.

As many as 57.2 percent of young respondents, aged between 15-24, said they did not know how to use condoms correctly.

Schwartlander said this was a "worrying contradiction between knowledge and behavior.

"Though people know that HIV can be transmitted through unprotected sex many still do not protect themselves with a condom when engaging in risky behavior," he said.

About half of the interviewees believed that HIV/AIDS was a serious problem in China, but 88 percent regarded their personal risk of contracting HIV as zero.

The survey also suggested Chinese needing to get more information about HIV tests. Nearly 42 percent of migrant workers, who are usually considered as running a higher risk of contracting HIV, said they have no idea where they can receive health checks.

A total of 57 percent said they had never talked about HIV/AIDS with their relatives, friends, schoolmates or colleagues.

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