This document reviews China’s social policy shifts in dealing with the HIV/AIDS threat. It explores the background to the problem, before looking at treatment of HIV/AIDS, prevention and migration.

It is argued that China’s AIDS epidemic began in the early 1980s as a localised epidemic among needle-sharing intravenous drug users. However, the sexual epidemic has the potential to become widespread for a number of reasons including the size of China’s young sexually active population, the changing sexual behaviours and norms, the widespread prostitution and the massive internal migration.

Key points in relation to the Chinese government’s social policy on HIV/AIDS include: 

  • there remains, in China, a chance of integrating AIDS prevention and care early in the epidemic, and of strengthening the broad-based primary health care efforts for which China was once justly praised
  • Since mid-2003 the national response has become significantly more aggressive and open, resulting in important policy and program initiatives
  • this overdue and more aggressive government AIDS response points to the mustering at last of the Communist Party’s high-level political commitment so essential in the China context for mobilising local-level action
  • actions, and the greater transparency that has accompanied them, come from a new leadership that is defining itself as more willing to prioritise the poor and more concerned with both equity and social development
  • following the outbreak of SARS, it is clear that more serious policy attention is being paid to the threat posed by HIV/AIDS.