China Lowers HIV Estimate, WHO Warns Risk Still High

China says 70,000 more of its people were infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, last year, even though there are fewer cases overall than earlier thought.

While reporting 70,000 new infections last year, the Chinese Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization announced Wednesday that China does not have as many HIV/AIDS cases as they had previously reported.

Chinese health officials have for years put the number of cases in China at 840,000. They have now revised that figure downward to 650,000.

However, the WHO Representative in China, Dr. Henk Bekedam, said the lower figure should not be interpreted as an improvement.

"Yes, we have now a lower estimate of current HIV cases than we did two years ago. We have now an estimate of 650,000 HIV/AIDS cases in China as opposed to the 840,000 figure that's been used since 2003, which now appears to have been an overestimate. That may lead some to believe that the situation has improved. That is not so," said Dr. Bekedam. "The new numbers should not mask the fact that HIV/AIDS infections [in China] are on the rise."

Officials say the new estimate of the number of HIV-positive people in China is the result of improved monitoring.

At the same time, the 70,000 new cases indicate that the epidemic is not letting up in the world's most populous nation.

After initially failing to admit the existence of HIV/AIDS, the Chinese government in 2003 began adopting a series of reforms that included free testing and the provision of anti-retroviral drugs.

Some of that effort has been accomplished with the help of international donors, including the United States. The Bush Administration has committed $35 million to prevention and treatment programs in China through next year, as part of a $15 billion plan to fight the global spread of the disease.