Chinese Medical Doctor Association

North American Liaison Office


China's market supervisor joins war against AIDS

BEIJING, April 8 (Xinhua) -- China's arduous war against the HIV/AIDS plague gained a powerful new advocate when the State Administration of Industry and Commerce (SAIC) integrated an HIV prevention message into its routine duties.

    SAIC is the government organization responsible for the supervision of markets and the enforcement of administrative laws for industry and commerce in the country.

    Early last year, and with support from the China-U.K. project China AIDS Roadmap Tactical Support (CHARTS), SAIC began training the heads of its private economy and advertising sections across China.

    To date, 250 chiefs have been trained on HIV prevention skills, policies and regulations. "These trained officials can educate local people, particularly migrant workers, after they go back to their work places," says Song Shaozhe, a researcher with SAIC's department for private economy supervision and management.

    Previously, HIV/AIDS prevention had been thought of as the responsibility of the health department.

    "SAIC's commitment to an anti-AIDS battle is significant, socially and politically. This further highlights the Chinese government's determination to win the fight," says Shi Kai, a CHARTS project officer.

    The three year CHARTS project that started in 2005 was aimed to strengthen China's strategic capacity to deliver an effective and coordinated response to HIV/AIDS through capacity building, supporting policy and providing training for government officials.

    SAIC also urged provincial industry and commerce bureaus to collaborate with private companies to expand efforts that promoted HIV/AIDS prevention services for migrant workers.

    It is also launching an education program on HIV/AIDS prevention for migrant workers in five pilot provinces, including Jiangsu, Guangdong and Fujian, home to most of China's private garment factories and IT plants.

    The spread of HIV/AIDS in the country is moving from the conventional high-risk groups to the general public, a large number of whom are migrant workers working in private enterprises.

    National Statistics Bureau figures show there are more than 200million rural migrant workers in manufacturing centers.

    Song, head of SAIC's education program, said, "Our mission is to find a way to deliver HIV/AIDS prevention messages effectively to migrant workers. They lack awareness of self-protection and the ignorance may pose a threat to public health."

    The public-private alliance in China's eastern Jiangsu province is comprised of nine private sectors, including tourism, machine and garment industry, and represents an innovative opportunity for the Chinese government to support the national HIV/AIDS strategic framework.

    "The first thing we did was to conduct a baseline survey on HIV prevention knowledge and attitude towards HIV carriers," says Zhang Zhenfei, deputy director of the Provincial Industry and Commerce Bureau.

    Among 1,740 surveyed employees of those private companies, 93.52 percent have heard about AIDS, whereas 40 percent were afraid that they could catch HIV or other venereal diseases.

    What seemed disturbing was the lack of sensitivity and discrimination of the workers. Among the polled, 55.3 percent strongly believed HIV carriers should be segregated.

    "These figures indicate that education on HIV/AIDS and prevention for workers at private enterprises is lagging behind," says Yang Haitao, deputy director of the provincial center for diseases control.

    Fortunately, the nine pilot private enterprises are using their own resources to develop and explore educational models for different working groups.

    Jiangsu Langtaosha E-Mass Media Lit. Co. makes use of thousands of their computers to display HIV/AIDS prevention on the desktop. "Users first see the anti-AIDS ad before they get into their accounts," says Zhang Zijian, the company's general technology supervisor.

    "Such preaching fashion might sound a bit passive for the time being. But in the long run, the result could be very remarkable," he says. Zhang's company owns a chain of 130 Internet bars throughout Jiangsu Province. Just in Nanjing, the provincial capital, there are 35 such bars, where 25,000 users get online daily.

    According to the company's survey, sex workers and migrant workers make a large percentage of those users. "These are two vulnerable groups. If some of them are woken up by our anti-HIV ads, they will tell their friends and families. It's a ripple effect, small and yet powerful," says Zhang.

    Since 1991 when the first HIV case reported in Jiangsu, the number of HIV infections has jumped to 2,000, 55 percent of which are migrant workers.

    The number is relatively low when comparing with other HIV-ravaged provinces. Yet the proportion of infections through sex activities is rather high, reaching 40 percent, 10 percent higher than the average proportion for the whole country, says Yang Haitao of the provincial CDC.

    He pointed out that most workers in private companies are in the prime of life, and far away from families. The chances for them to engage in high-risk behavior are huge. "If they don't know how to protect themselves, they could easily become the largest group that contracts HIV through unsafe sex," Yang says.

    The Yangzhou-based Diyi Group of Jiangsu, a shareholding company noted for producing wires and cables, opens a special page of HIV prevention on the company's monthly magazine Diyi Tan, or Diyi Forum.

    "The magazine is a stable preaching platform, but it's not enough," says Jiang Zhengchuan, deputy manager of general affairs of the Diyi Group.

    "So, we train our workers in groups, and talk to them in person. At the training course, we address safe sex practices. Some 90 percent of our 802 employees are migrant workers aged between 30 and 40. You have to help them understand that how important their health is to their families and the company," Jiang says.

    Employees are the creators of social wealth. Training migrant workers on HIV/AIDS prevention is beneficial for everyone, the workers, their employers, and the government.

    "Only when workers are protected from HIV threat can the enterprise thrive and get stabilized," says Song Shaozhe of the SAIC.

    The public-private alliance's HIV/AIDS prevention programs have reached to over 10,300 migrant workers in the five pilot provinces.

    In order to have a better map of HIV/AIDS prevention among migrant workers in private industries nationwide, the SAIC has established its national liaison system as well.

    "More than 300,000 people from local industry and commerce bureaus and offices at provincial and city levels have been chosen as liaisons," says Song, adding that their main responsibilities include delivering the country's HIV control policies, and carrying out the HIV prevention duties of industry and commerce bureaus."

    Shi Kai of CHARTS notes, "To a great extent the SAIC's participation in the fight against HIV/AIDS is an important guarantee for the country eventually to win in this public health war."