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Treating HIV/AIDS in China

HIV/AIDS in China
For the better part of half a century, China’s population has been the largest of any country in the world. A country so populous – its 2020 census reported a population of more than 1.4 billion – typically requires a sophisticated, well-equipped and well-informed health care system that all within the borders can access. Regarding HIV/AIDS in China, while the country’s health care system has the medical equipment to treat Chinese residents and citizens, there is still a general problem of social acceptance.

Treatment Access and Affordability

As an initiative for China’s national estimates of 1.25 million living with HIV, the country has been producing its own HIV treatment medications since 2002. In 2022, domestic news outlet Xinhua reported its homegrown regimen Aikening and Kaletra was effective in preventing the spread, lifestyle-compromising symptoms and the development of AIDS.

Treatment regimens in China have also long included traditional Chinese herbal medicine (TCM). A departure from the trends of Western nations, TCM is far more affordable than Western medicine options in China, as “many TCM hospitals depend on government subsidies.” TCM also often has a price lower than its actual cost, making it a more approachable option for people at the intersection of living with HIV/AIDS and living in poverty in China.

Multiple studies posit TCM as being an efficacious treatment for symptoms in the long term. Chinese people living with HIV have access, therefore, to various streams of treatment options which should, on paper, provide a hopeful outlook for the present and future, especially for those below the poverty line.

Treatment, Legislation and Society

Not only is treatment readily available and proven to be efficacious, but it is also mandatory. China’s laws around HIV/AIDS from 2006 insist on people living with HIV informing their doctors from whom they seek any treatment. The laws also stipulate informing one’s intimate partner of their status, and punishments by law are commonplace for ignoring this legislation. The Sixth Tone reported a “legal first” whereby a citizen’s marriage was annulled due to their failure to disclose their HIV-positive status to their partner.

Having a positive status can, and likely will, affect all areas of one’s life that they have built. Perhaps the biggest obstacle, then, to effectively treating HIV/AIDS as a phenomenon in China’s communities is social stigma, subsequent unawareness of status and low treatment uptake.

Transmission of HIV is a crime in China. This is regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and could be a contributing factor to the low treatment uptake that the Chinese researchers observed: 71% before intervention and 83% afterward. In 2022, China implemented digital interventions using text and instant message reminders as further interventions in a bid to increase the low uptake figures.

Looking Ahead

China has made notable strides in HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention. The availability of domestic HIV medications and the integration of traditional Chinese herbal medicine provide affordable options for those living with the virus. While social acceptance and stigma remain challenges, China’s legislation and interventions aim to raise awareness, increase treatment uptake and create a more inclusive and supportive environment for individuals living with HIV/AIDS.

– Linus Erbach
Photo: Flickr