OBJECTIVE - To describe the HIV/AIDS epidemic in mainland China.
METHODS - We review the magnitude of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the social characteristics and geographic distribution of at-risk groups in China based on published literature and unpublished official data.
RESULTS - Injection drug use has been the dominant route for HIV infection in China, and will continue to be a major risk factor with increasing numbers of new drug users and needle sharing. Commercial plasma donation with unhygienic re-infusion of red blood cells was common in rural communities in the early 1990s. While this is unlikely to constitute a major factor for future HIV spread, those already infected represent a formidable treatment challenge. Huge seasonal work migration facilitates disease spread across regions. Many homosexual men have unprotected sex with men, women, or both, and may contract or spread HIV. Though commercial sex workers have contributed to a small proportion of the reported epidemic thus far, flourishing commercial sex is of growing concern and may have a bridging role in transmitting HIV from core groups to the general population.
CONCLUSION - Increasing numbers of sex workers and drug users, internal migration, high risk behaviours, and low condom use suggest a future upward trend for HIV/AIDS and underscore the urgency of scaling up interventions in China.