BEIJING - Between 500,000 and 900,000 children under 15 years of age on the Chinese mainland have been affected by HIV/AIDS, expert estimations have revealed.
They mainly include children who are infected with HIV themselves, those who have lost one or both parents to AIDS, and those living with parents who are suffering from the disease.
Although government policies such as free medication have provided support to nearly 90 percent of these children, "those missing out are still living in great difficulties and support for child sufferers should be improved", said Yin Yin Nwe, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) representative for China.
In response, the government will improve the provision of medication for child sufferers, an official surnamed Jiao with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention told China Daily on Wednesday, World AIDS Day.
To date, China has reported more than 6,000 HIV/AIDS sufferers aged below 15, and about 3,000 of them are already full-blown AIDS patients who need antiviral medications, statistics from the Ministry of Health revealed.
Nearly 1,600 of these patients are on antiretroviral therapy designed especially for children, Jiao said.
According to experts, the country can only produce antiretroviral drugs for adults and relies entirely on international donations of AIDS drugs for children.
To secure sustainable drug supplies for these patients, the government plans to select competent domestic drug companies to begin producing the medicine, or it will buy it from abroad, Jiao said.
"Of course, the government would pay for that," he added.
Yin Yin Nwe said that "follow-up services by medical professionals should be in place to make sure that children take the medicine properly".
According to Jiao, more effort should be made to detect children living with HIV/AIDS whose illnesses are not yet known to authorities.
In China, most child sufferers contract the virus from their infected mothers, so "it's equally important to carry out interventions targeting that", he said.
This year the central government has invested nearly 800 million yuan ($120 million) mainly to expand HIV intervention programs targeting mother-to-child transmission, official statistics have revealed.
Pregnant women receive free screenings for HIV and syphilis and free medical intervention, if needed, to avert mother-to-child transmission. By June, about 5.7 million would-be-mothers had had screenings.
Scientific studies have shown that a combination of timely and appropriate HIV screenings, medical intervention and the administration of proper antiretroviral drugs can prevent pregnant women from passing the virus to their babies.
UNICEF said that worldwide it hoped to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of the AIDS virus during childbirth by 2015.
Currently, HIV/AIDS infections by mother-to-child transmissions have almost been eliminated in most developed countries such as the United States and European nations.
However, it is still seriously affecting many less-developed countries. In sub-Saharan Africa about 1,000 babies are born with the HIV virus from infected mothers every day, according to UNICEF's annual report on children and AIDS.
"That is outrageous as we have the knowledge and the tools to prevent such infection," said Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF.
Without medication, many of these babies will die by the time they are 2 years old, said the report.
It also found that in 2009, about 53 percent of HIV-positive pregnant women in low- and middle-income countries received the antiretroviral therapies used to prevent the virus being passed to newborns, an increase from 15 percent in 2005.