A 20-year-old man became the first volunteer to receive the Aids vaccine on Saturday, and seven others, four of them women, will join him, Xinhua said.

 

Forty-nine volunteers aged between 18 and 50 would receive the tests in three phases, the first lasting 14 months.

 

Experts have faulted China for being slow to recognise a growing Aids problem, exacerbated by the cover-up of the blood-selling schemes in the central province of Henan that infected scores of people in the mid-1990s.

 

The government estimates that China, with a 1.3 billion population, has 840,000 people with HIV.

Activists and experts say a more accurate figure would be 1-1.5 million.

 

The United Nations has said that the number of HIV/Aids victims in China could rise to 10 million by 2010 unless serious steps are taken to fight the disease.


Prevention shackled
 

On World Aids Day in 2003, Premier Wen Jiabao shook hands with Aids patients at a Beijing hospital in a symbolic display of commitment to fighting the disease.

 

Experts say over one million
people in China are infected

But efforts to step up Aids prevention remain shackled by politics and conservative attitudes towards sex.

 

The Aids virus has infected more than 43 million people worldwide and killed 25 million.

The incurable virus spreads through sexual contact, blood products and mothers' milk but can be controlled to some degree with cocktails of drugs called highly active antiretroviral therapy.

 

The International Aids Vaccine Initiative has said dozens of potential vaccines are being tested and more than 70 human clinical trials have taken place, although none has yet promised to conquer the virus.