World AIDS Day Prompts ‘Burst’ of AIDS Stories in Chinese Media
Prompted by the Dec. 1 World AIDS Day commemoration, China's news media this week have been "suddenly overflowing with stories" about AIDS, the New York Times reports. With Chinese media content largely controlled by the state, the increased activity "clearly reflects a government decision to allow greater discussion" of the AIDS epidemic, which the country has only recently acknowledged. Media attention this week has included several "significant firsts," including on-camera "testimonials" from people with AIDS about discrimination and a prime-time soap opera, "featuring some of China's most popular actors," about a businessman who contracts HIV from a prostitute. In addition, radio announcers discussed safe sex, and the Times reports that smaller, "more loosely controlled publications" were allowed to "break new ground" with stories on the HIV epidemic among people who have contracted the disease through selling their blood.
Though the media attention is a "great improvement over the previous year's effort," the Times says that much of the activity was "more propaganda than information." Many patients featured on TV, for example, hid their identities by wearing sunglasses or speaking with their backs to the camera, while the Communist Party's main newspaper, the People's Daily, ran just two stories about the disease, both of which focused on the epidemic in other countries. In addition, the Times reports that a discount-drug deal reached by China this week with Merck still places the annual per-patient medication cost at more than $3,500 -- 10 times the price in countries such as Brazil and Thailand that manufacture or import generic versions of drugs. Although the World Trade Organization last month explicitly said generic production or purchase is permissible in response to national health emergencies, China has said it will not pursue such action out of "respect for intellectual property rights." The Times adds that China in many ways "continues to play down the seriousness of its AIDS epidemic," reporting estimates of only 600,000 cases nationwide. Many experts place the number much higher, and UNAIDS Director Peter Piot recently warned that China could see up to 20 million HIV cases by 2010 if the country does not move to more openly address the epidemic (Rosenthal, New York Times, 12/5).