China�s northwestern region of Xinjiang has now become a hot spot for the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus, second only to Yunnan Province near the infamous Golden Triangle drug-producing region, RFA�s Uyghur service reports.

According to statistics published by international and Chinese health organizations, the number of patients infected by HIV/AIDS in the predominantly Uyghur region of Xinjiang now sees more than 1,000 new cases a year.

At the end of 2003, there were 8,150 patients infected by HIV/AIDS virus, with 180 of showing the symptoms of full-blown AIDS. Around 98 percent of the patients infected were drug users. An increasing number of patients became infected after receiving treatment in public health facilities.

The percentage of women patients has also risen sharply from one in seven in 2001 to one in three patients in 2003. Infections are also on the rise among the migrant worker population in Xinjiang.

A recent study by the Chinese health authorities in the region found drug users widely spread throughout the local counties, cities, and towns in the Uyghur region. Aside from drug usage, and sexual relations, public health facilities appear to have played a significant role in spreading infection.

It also found a higher incidence of same-sex relationships had contributed to the fast spread of the HIV/AIDS virus in the region. Further factors included lack of understanding of HIV/AIDS in the general population, an overall low level of education in the region, and hostile views towards HIV/AIDS patients and insufficient public health work and infrastructure.

The study also found that the majority of Uyghurs were unaware of high infection rates within their own community and lacked access to information on how to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Official figures put the total number of Chinese infected with HIV/AIDS at around 1 million, although only a small percentage of these cases is reported.

Xinjiang was taken over by the Communist regime in 1949 after a brief period as independent East Turkestan. It is the scene of continued unrest and anti-Beijing feeling, and pro-independence activists are routinely harassed and jailed. China has also ridden on the momentum of the Bush administration�s �war on terror� to justify its crackdown on the independence movement, which it alleges has connections with Osama Bin Laden.

Beijing has also launched a massive development initiative in the poorer western regions of the country in recent years, while at the same time actively encouraging the migration of Han Chinese to the troubled region. The proportion of Han Chinese in Xinjiang has grown from around 6 percent in 1949 to just under 50 percent today. #####


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