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China has fewer people with HIV/AIDS than previously thought, but still faces a serious and growing epidemic, according to a joint report released by the Chinese Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS yesterday (January 25).

The report says China had 650,000 people with HIV/AIDS in 2005 — down from a 2003 estimate of 840,000.

However, WHO and UNAIDS stress that the drop is due to more accurate surveillance rather than a fall in HIV prevalence. Indeed, last year China recorded 70,000 new HIV infections and 25,000 AIDS deaths.

"China will continue to face challenges in surveillance and monitoring of the epidemic, and improvements in this area can and should be implemented in the future," said the two UN agencies in a news release.

The report says that about half the new infections resulted from unsafe sex and half from sharing needles used to inject drugs such as heroin.

China's deputy health minister, Wang Longde, said yesterday that statistics showed that new infections were increasing among the general public and not just in high-risk groups such as drug users. 

Link to 2005 Update on the HIV/AIDS Epidemic and Response in China 

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