By Yu-Tzu Chiu
The number of people in Taiwan who have become infected with HIV since 1984 was 4,590 by the end of October, according to figures released last week by the Cabinet's Department of Health. The department shows 603 new cases reported this year. Of the cumulative total, 4,217 cases were Taiwanese nationals and 373 were foreigners. Since 1984, the Department of Health shows 1,319 HIV-infected Taiwanese have been diagnosed with AIDS. There have been 820 deaths.
Health authorities said statistics suggested that young people were at greater risk of HIV infection than older individuals. HIV-positive persons in their 20s and 30s account for 36 percent and 33 percent, respectively, of the cumulative number. Nearly 93 percent of the 4,217 HIV-infected Taiwanese are male. Results of two recent studies by the department indicate the real number of Taiwan's HIV/AIDS cases could be about twice the official statistics, said department Deputy Director-General Hsu-mei Hsu.
Obligatory HIV testing in Taiwan targets several categories of people, including soldiers, prisoners, blood donors and pregnant women. In addition, some medical centers offer free, anonymous testing and counseling. Hsu said there have been more than 20 million testing records so far. "We estimate five out of 100,000 persons in Taiwan are HIV-positive, and the infection rate is increasing gradually," Hsu said. Taipei is the city most heavily affected by HIV/AIDS in Taiwan. Shiow-ing Wu of Taipei City STD Control Center said that about one in four HIV-positive persons live in the country's largest city.
A recent survey of 39 sex workers conducted by the Department of Health showed 86 percent did not persuade clients to use condoms, Wu said. "The problem is that they believe they might be lucky," Wu said. In anticipation of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, the Department of Health will distribute 20,000 condoms at Taipei gas stations Nov. 25-29.