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AIDS: Rumors and Reality

By Kania Li, GBI Analyst

 

The issue of “HIV-Negative AIDS” has become a popular subject of public discourse in China lately. Dating back to June 2009, six Chinese provinces and municipalities have reported thousands of people reporting AIDS-like symptoms, such as swollen lymph nodes, subcutaneous hemorrhage, and joint pain, despite repeatedly testing as HIV negative. As an attempt to dismisses mounting “HIV-Negative AIDS” concerns and respond to attention from the media and public surrounding the issue, Deng Haihua, spokesman from China’s Ministry of Health (NYSE:MOH), remarked at a regular press conference on 11, April that the HIV suspicions were most likely a form of psychological “AIDS phobia.”

 

Deng’s words echoed the results of an investigation by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (NASDAQ:CDC), begun one month after officials first received reports of “HIV-Negative AIDS”. In January 2010, the CDC collected blood samples from 59 patients and carried out epidemiological probes at the University of California in San Francisco to undergo comparison with 15,000 known viruses including HIV. After testing one-third of the samples by March 30, no sign of viral infection and/or AIDS virus was found. Results showed that patients were HIV negative and that their CD4 levels were within the normal standards.

 

Since China’s first AIDS case was reported in 1985, there are currently an estimated 740,000 people living with HIV in China, lower than the previous estimate of 840,000 in 20031. Besides better methods of data estimation, the development of pathology and pharmacological sciences, and measures such as AIDS education and intervention from both China’s government and NGOs have contributed to this result.

 

At present, anti-HIV drugs are produced locally by multinational manufactures or imported from overseas. Currently available drugs on the market include zidovudine, lamivudine, abacavir, stavudine, didanosine, nevirapine, indinavir, lopinavir, ritonavir and others2. Domestic producers have attempted to responded to the challenge of foreign competition, and have received governmental support for development of both innovative and generic anti-AIDS drugs. Earlier this month, Chinese scientists have completed the initial Phase I clinical trials of an HIV vaccine. developed by the Virus Research Institute of the China CDC (under CDC's National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention). This research started in 1993, and last year produced a vaccine was capable of inducing an immune reaction in the cells of healthy people. BCHT Biotechnology Co. Ltd (BCHT Bio) will be jointly commercializing the vaccine with its developer.

 

The nation’s largest HIV/AIDS prevention and control project, the USD 510 million China Global Fund AIDS Program, covering 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, is currently underway until December 2015. The program aims to improve access and quality of treatment to HIV/AIDS patient as well as extend coverage of comprehensive prevention. Another prevention program for mother-to-infant transmission diseases, including AIDS, was initiated by MOH on March 2011. Per the guideline, local health authorities will incorporate mandatory diagnostic testing into pre-marital and pregnancy checkups, as well as supply free AIDS medications for pregnant women and infants with HIV. Meanwhile local branches of the CDC will conduct an educational campaign focusing on high-risk demographics like pregnant women and migrant workers.

 

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the war against AIDS. Despite promising past, the Chinese government still faces a hard battle, rendered more difficult by an increasing rises in costs of prevention and treatment, insufficient medical services, poor educational opportunities, and inadequate financial assistance for complications or opportunistic infections of AIDS.

 

1: Global AIDS Epidemic reported by UNAIDS in 2010.

2: SOURCE and AIDS free antiviral treatment drug list release by MOH in 2003