This article previously appeared at asiaone.com here.
China is bringing free antiviral therapy to all citizens living with HIV/AIDS, the top health authority said.
Antiviral treatment should be recommended for all those with HIV/AIDS under China's newly revised guidelines, said an online notice issued by the National Health and Family Planning Commission on Wednesday.
But it has to be on a voluntary basis to make sure they are fully prepared for a treatment that is usually lifelong, it said.
"Treatment facilities must not force people to receive the therapy," it said.
Wu Hao, director of the Department of Infectious Diseases at You An Hospital in Beijing, one of the largest HIV/AIDS treatment centers nationwide, welcomed the initiative.
"It helps with better treatment outcomes for the sufferer and for public health as well."
The strategy of giving early treatment for all is in line with WHO guidelines issued last year, he added.
According to Wu, the therapy lowers the viral load and thus helps prevent further HIV transmission.
Previously, antiviral therapy was offered only to those who had developed a low level of immunity, which can lead to life-threatening opportunistic infections like pneumonia and encephalitis
He said early treatment improves outcomes and helps prolong life spans, "even similar to that of healthy people".
Bao Yugang, deputy Asia bureau chief of United States-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, one of the largest NGOs for AIDS treatment and care in the world, said the US had implemented the early treatment strategy about two years ago.
But he stressed good drug compliance is important to prevent drug resistance.
"Informed consent therefore is required to help sufferers prepare for the lifelong therapy," Wu said.
Xiao Bing, a sophomore at a university in Wuhan, Hubei province, expressed concerns over side effects from the drugs.
He tested positive for HIV in May.
Wu, in response, said drugs have improved a lot and potential side effects were quite limited, like skin rashes.
China has registered more than 577,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, accounting for 68 per cent of the estimated number of infected people, according to the National Center for AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Disease Control and Prevention.
Nearly 390,000 are receiving treatment.
In 2015, more than 100,000 were given the treatment and the number is expected to double this year, Wu said.