The Chinese free antiretroviral treatment program: challenges and responses

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To respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in China, the National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention established the Division of Treatment and Care in late 2001. The pilot for the National Free ART Program began in Henan Province in 2002, and the program fully began in 2003. Treatment efforts initially focused on patients infected through illicit blood and plasma donation in the mid-1990s and subsequently expanded to include HIV-infected injection drug users, commercial sex workers, pregnant women, and children. The National Free ART Database was established in late 2004, and includes data on current patients and those treated before 2004. Over 31 000 adult and pediatric patients have been treated thus far. Challenges for the program include integration of drug treatment services with ART, an under-resourced health care system, co-infections, stigma, discrimination, drug resistance, and procurement of second-line ART. The merging of national treatment and care, epidemiologic, and drug resistance databases will be critical for a better understanding of the epidemic, for earlier identification of patients requiring ART, and for improved patient follow-up. The Free ART Program has made considerable progress in providing the necessary care and treatment for HIV-infected people in China and has strong government support for continued improvement and expansion.

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