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China estimates revised downward

China has revised its estimates of HIV incidence downward by about 200,000, in response to a more extensive, better study.

BEIJING, Jan. 25 — China countered the long-held suspicion that it has undercounted the number of people with H.I.V. and AIDS by releasing a new, more extensive estimate on Wednesday that found the opposite: that the country had actually overestimated its number of cases.

The new estimate, conducted with the World Health Organization and the United Nations AIDS program, lowered the country’s estimated number of H.I.V. and AIDS cases to 650,000 from the official figure of 840,000 released by the government in 2003. Many experts and AIDS workers have long believed that China has at least 1.5 million cases, possibly far more, and some expressed skepticism that the new figure was any more reliable than past estimates.

At a news conference on Wednesday morning, Chinese and international health officials endorsed the new findings but also warned that while the overall number of cases is less than previously believed, the rate of infection is still rising, with 70,000 new cases in 2005. Drug users and prostitutes are transmitting H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, in most of the new cases, but the report also found that the disease is now spreading from such high-risk groups into the general population, raising the risk of broader infection.

he lower estimate in China, if accurate, would place it in a far more enviable position than India, which is estimated to have more than five million people living with H.I.V. The Indian government has been criticized for failing to respond swiftly and effectively to the disease.

China is still trying to regain its credibility on AIDS. Not too many years ago, top leaders denied that the country had an AIDS problem and tried to cover up an outbreak in central China caused by a tainted, government-sponsored blood selling program. Since late 2003, China has mounted an aggressive nationwide campaign against AIDS and introduced pilot programs that provide free condoms, free methadone and even free antiretroviral drugs.

Sort of good news. But it probably won’t stay low for too long.

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