The early results of a clinical trial to test the efficacy of "second-line" treatments for people suffering from full-blown AIDS have been positive, a senior Chinese health official said at last week's 2008 International AIDS Conference.
More than 100 Chinese are currently taking part in the scheme, which was launched in December in Hubei and Anhui provinces, and the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, Ma Ye, a specialist with the Chinese Center of Disease Control and Prevention and head of the scheme, said.
Its aim is to determine the best course of treatment for about 8,000 Chinese people whose condition has reached the severe symptomatic or full-blown phase, she said.
"The scheme has already delivered some positive results, and we are now drawing up guidelines for medical workers with regard to drug selection and prescription," she said.
"We are also working on how to scale up the scheme to the national level."
Field studies have shown that up to 20 percent of people on first-line drug treatments have developed resistance to their medication and therefore require second-line therapy, Ma told China Daily.
In 2003, the government began providing anti-retroviral drugs free of charge to all people officially registered as having full-blown AIDS. More than 40,000 Chinese now benefit, she said.
However, some people with the full-blown condition are having to fund their own courses of second-line treatment.
Meng Lin, who heads a Beijing-based information support network for people with HIV/AIDS, is one of them.
"In the beginning, I took the drugs that were available in China, but they caused severe side effects. So in 2004, I switched to second-line treatment," Meng, who contracted HIV in 1995, said.
However, the drugs cost him more than $1,500 a year, and he has to rely on friends overseas sending them to him, he said.
Although there are more than 20 kinds of AIDS drugs on the world market, only seven are available in China, he said.
Hao Yang, deputy director of the disease control and prevention department at the Ministry of Health, said the ministry will hold a meeting later this month to finalize the details of the nationwide second-line treatment scheme.
But the prescription and use of anti-retroviral treatments for AIDS sufferers must be based on medical science and reality, he said.
"There is a misunderstanding held by some people, including patients and medical workers, that only expensive drugs are effective," Hao said.
Whether or not a person suffering from AIDS should start on second-line therapy can be determined only through clinical examinations, he said.
Source: China Daily