Chinese Vice Premier and Health Minister Wu Yi Meets With China’s Most Prominent AIDS Advocate
Chinese Vice Premier and Health Minister Wu Yi recently held a three-hour private meeting with Gao Yaojie, the country's "foremost" AIDS advocate, Gao said on Wednesday, AFP/Yahoo! News reports. The meeting is the "latest indication" that the government wants to seriously address the country's AIDS epidemic, according to AFP/Yahoo! News (AFP/Yahoo! News, 2/18). Hundreds of thousands of poor farmers contracted HIV through a government-sponsored blood collection program in the early 1990s, during which the farmers sold their blood at state hospitals and private clinics. Chinese officials have been reluctant to openly discuss HIV/AIDS because they fear being blamed for the epidemic and fear the response from foreign investors (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/2/03). Wu requested a meeting with Gao during a tour of the "AIDS villages" in central Henan province, AFP/Yahoo! News reports.
According to Gao, Wu ordered Henan officials -- who have harassed Gao for several years -- to leave the room, saying, "There's no one from the province here. You can say whatever you want." Gao told Wu that the government should try to find families to adopt the thousands of children who have been orphaned by the epidemic. In addition, Gao urged Wu to crack down on the sale of fake HIV/AIDS medicines by "scam artists," according to AFP/Yahoo! News. Gao said she did not know whether the meeting with Wu would change the way the government addresses the epidemic, adding, "The Henan officials who ran the blood-selling schemes are still in power. None have been punished and some have been promoted." However, Gao said that the meeting at least may make local authorities more cautious about harassing her (AFP/Yahoo! News, 2/18). The Chinese government estimates that there are 840,000 HIV-positive people in the country and that 80,000 have AIDS; however, some experts believe that those figures are an underestimate (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/15).