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Medical workers and volunteers hand out brochures about HIV prevention to college students at the Daming Palace National Heritage Park in Xi"an, Shaanxi province, on Saturday, World AIDS Day. [Photo by Yuan Jingzhi/China Daily]

Yunnan province considers offering free treatment to long-term residents

Southwest China"s Yunnan province is considering providing free treatment to some foreign residents with HIV/AIDS, a top Chinese epidemiologist said.

The province is planning to revise its regulations on HIV control and prevention so that foreigners with HIV/AIDS who have lived in Yunnan for a certain period of time and intend to continue living in China for a long time, such as those who have established families with Chinese, will get free treatment, according to Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The amendment is still under review by authorities. Once in effect, it will help both foreigners and Chinese against the epidemic," he said ahead of World AIDS Day on Saturday.

Most HIV-positive foreigners in China live in areas along the country"s borders with Myanmar and Vietnam, including Yunnan. The number living in China has been increasing since 2010 due to more frequent cross-border exchanges, according to the health authorities.

"Most foreigners with HIV in Yunnan have already set up families with Chinese," Wu said. "Providing free treatment to them can also protect local Chinese."

An official with the Yunnan Health Commission, who declined to be named, confirmed the regulation is being revised but did not give details.

The revised regulation is unlikely to provide free treatment to all HIV-positive foreigners in Yunnan, the official said, citing concerns that large numbers of foreigners with HIV might cross the border for free treatment.

"How could we deal with it then?" the official added.

The National Health Commission says all Chinese people living with HIV/AIDS have access to free antiviral treatment.

There were 2,154 HIV-positive foreigners reported to be living in China last year, compared with 660 in 2010, Han Mengjie, head of the National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention, told a news conference last month.

He added that most were drug addicts or those living with Chinese spouses in Yunnan or the neighboring Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.

In Yunnan, health authorities face increasing difficulties containing HIV/AIDS in border areas due to an increasing number of inbound foreigners every year, as well as other reasons such as armed conflict, particularly in Myanmar, according to the provincial health authority.

This has resulted in shortages of talent and funding, making HIV/AIDS control and prevention in border areas a serious issue, it said in a statement.

Exit-entry inspection and quarantine authorities in the province conducted more than 128,000 voluntary HIV tests on inbound and outbound travelers between January and October, and detected 1,034 cases of foreigners infected with HIV, according to the provincial health authority.

There were 12,000 HIV-positive foreigners reported in Yunnan between 1989 and the end of October, it said. More than 80 percent were from Myanmar, followed by Vietnam and Laos.

Males accounted for 62.3 percent of the total number, and 62.1 percent were farmers, followed by those involved in transporting goods by water or road, according to the provincial commission.

"We have prioritized border areas for combating HIV/AIDS, and the rising HIV prevalence there has been curbed," the statement said.

Incidences of new infections among key groups, such as foreign sailors and cross-border truck drivers, continue to decline, it added.

The province will intensify cooperation with neighboring countries in HIV/AIDS control, including cooperation in law enforcement, as well as try to reach more consensus in areas including border control and improving publicity about controlling and preventing infectious diseases and related laws and regulations, the provincial commission said.