Credit: Getty Images/An elderly AIDS patient
is treated at a clinic in Fuyang, in east
China's Anhui province on November 28, 2011.
When an old widower
from the central Chinese city of Wuhan
went into hospital last summer because
of a persistent high fever, he was
diagnosed with the AIDS virus -- and
made national news.
The man, in his late 70s, had frequently
hired prostitutes after his wife died,
and doctors believe he contracted the
HIV virus -- which can eventually
develop into full-blown AIDS -- through
unprotected sex, the official Xinhua
news agency reported.
With the population rapidly aging, more
than 10% of China's 1.3 billion people
are now over the age of 60, census
figures show. Improving living standards
mean many Chinese are living and
remaining sexually active for longer.
But now the
threat of HIV/AIDS looms large over a segment
of Chinese society not previously known for a
high prevalence of cases: senior citizens.
What is HIV/AIDS?
Among new HIV-positive cases nationwide, those
over the age of 50 accounted for almost 15% at
the end of 2009 -- a sharp rise from less than
8% just four years earlier, according to a
recent report by the Chinese Center for
Disease Control and Prevention. The center
said most patients were male and contracted
the virus through unprotected sex.
The United Nations has estimated 780,000
people will be living with the AIDS virus in
China by the end of this year and more than
half of them are unaware of their condition.
Chinese officials acknowledge the real figure
may be higher, particularly among the elderly.
West must not give up on AIDS fight
"It's very hard for us to obtain an exact
number due to our limited ability to monitor
and report the epidemic situation in this age
group," Hao Yang, deputy director of the
Health Ministry's disease control bureau, told
a health seminar in Beijing last year.
"Older people are more prone to having medical
conditions that require surgeries and
hospitals are stricter on pre-operative checks
-- that's how many of them are notified of
their HIV status for the first time."
Researchers say the lure of easy sex with
prostitutes -- the average price paid a
relatively modest $5.5 -- and the lack of safe
sex knowledge among their generation have
exposed an increasing number of Chinese senior
citizens to the danger of HIV/AIDS.
Another 30 years of AIDS?
Hao said his ministry had already started
including the elderly in its HIV/AIDS
awareness and prevention campaigns, which
previously targeted only younger people and
high-risk groups like migrant laborers and sex