Rural Chinese Authorities ‘Redoubling’ Efforts to Quell Discussion of HIV/AIDS Epidemic
Officials in rural China are "redoubling their efforts to suppress any discussion" of the region's HIV/AIDS epidemic, despite moves by the central government in Beijing to address the problem, the New York Times reports. While Chinese AIDS experts estimate that as many as one million people in Henan province may have the disease, local officials contend that the official count is only 1,495 as of this month. Local officials are particularly hesitant to admit the scope of the problem because many of them have profited from the unsanitary blood trade that is largely responsible for spreading the virus among the peasant population. The blood buying schemes in the 1990s collected plasma for use in making medicines by pooling the blood from many donors, harvesting the plasma, and then dividing up and returning the pooled red blood cells to donors. The reinfusion of excess blood cells helped to prevent anemia in the donors and allowed for more frequent donation, but it also distributed any HIV-infected cells to all donors in the group. Villagers have recently begun to speak up, staging protests and seeking out journalists to tell their stories and voice their concerns. Most were largely unaware of HIV/AIDS until a Chinese reporter began secretly distributing copies of a book on the disease by Gao Yaojie, a retired Chinese doctor who has "championed" AIDS awareness, the Times reports. There has been no official HIV/AIDS education in the rural provinces. Local officials have been quick to react, quarantining people with symptoms of the disease and detaining journalists who come to investigate, and they have also cracked down on the small demonstrations that have begun to crop up, the Times states. "All of us want to appeal, but most don't dare because they're too afraid. People who have tried at all are under surveillance. It's even hard for them to leave the village," one elderly woman with AIDS said. In three separate incidents last month, officials in Henan, the "epicenter" of the Chinese epidemic, detained HIV-positive farmers who had come to protest the government's inaction. Officials have also warned people not to speak to journalists, but a few still take the chance, speaking on the condition of anonymity outside of their villages in the hopes that their actions will cause the government to offer some sort of response (Rosenthal, New York Times, 12/11).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.