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An HIV carrier receives a virus test in Qingdao, Shandong province, Nov 24, 2014. [Photo/VCG]

China will expand the reach of HIV testing and treatment to bolster progress toward eliminating AIDS, health officials said on Tuesday ahead of World AIDS Day, which falls on Dec 1.

Curbing rising incidences of sexually-transmitted HIV infections is the top priority in the country"s efforts to combat AIDS. To that end, China has stepped up testing and therapies in recent years, according to Gao Fu, director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We will strive to achieve the targets set by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS during the next year," he said.

The program, also known as UNAIDS, adopted a 90-90-90 target in 2014, meaning to diagnose 90 percent of all HIV-positive people, provide sustained antiretroviral therapy for 90 percent of them, and achieve viral suppression for 90 percent of those under treatment by 2020.

Hitting these goals by the end of next year will lay the groundwork to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, according to UNAIDS.

In China, about 83.4 percent of people who tested positive for HIV accessed standard treatment last year, and 94.2 percent of those being treated obtained viral suppression, according to official data.

Sustained viral suppression means the viral load inside a patient is undetectable, and thus the virus has a very low chance of spreading.

However, there remains a pressing need to scale up testing across the country.

Last year, 240 million HIV tests were conducted in China, an increase of 20 percent from the year before. These tests revealed 149,000 new cases, up 10.5 percent from 2017, data show.

"About one-fourth of Chinese living with the virus are unaware of their HIV-positive status, and a large number of infected patients do not receive diagnoses until their conditions have developed to an advanced stage," Zhou Yuhui, deputy director of the National Health Commission"s disease control bureau, said on Tuesday.

Gao, from the China CDC, added that the institution will enhance research into and applications of novel testing methods, and it will promote self-testing among high-risk groups through kits that are available in pharmacies and online.

China has maintained a low-level HIV prevalence for years, Zhou said.

According to the health commission, as of the end of last year there were about 1.25 million people living with HIV in the country, bringing the prevalence rate to roughly 9 per 10,000 people.

He added that the country is close to eliminating HIV transmission through blood transfusions and has stemmed new infections through intravenous drug use or mother-to-child transmission.

However, efforts to wipe out the disease are still rife with challenges. The popularity of social networking apps has given rise to unsafe sexual behaviors and makes it more difficult to discern high-risk sexual choices, and no major breakthroughs have been reported in global efforts to develop effective HIV vaccines and medications that can cure the disease, according to Zhou.

Zhou said in recent years China has also mobilized social organizations to launch education campaigns targeting high-risk populations, promote the use of condoms and offer services ranging from HIV testing to psychological support and guidance on patient adherence.

"We will further mobilize social groups to participate in controlling AIDS and incorporate their efforts into the national plan," he added.

This year, the role of the community in fighting HIV will be highlighted during World AIDS Day, according to Amakobe Sande, the UNAIDS country director and representative in China.

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