China Harassing AIDS Advocates, Hindering Fight Against Disease, Report Says
Government restrictions, harassment of HIV/AIDS advocates and discrimination against HIV-positive people are hampering the fight against the pandemic in China, according to a Human Rights Watch report released on Wednesday, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. In its 57-page report, HRW says that these restrictions, as well as widespread ignorance about the disease, are making it difficult to curb the spread of HIV in a country that could have 10 million HIV-positive residents by the end of the decade. Although the HRW report says that China has taken actions to address the epidemic -- including establishing a nationwide program providing antiretroviral treatment at no cost to poor HIV/AIDS patients -- it also cites examples of censorship, harassment and arrests of advocates that have "hamstrung China's ability to mobilize citizens to respond to the AIDS epidemic" (McLaughlin, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/15). According to HRW China researcher Sara Davis, many local organizations have experience that could improve the country's response to the epidemic, but they face harassment, censorship and abuse because the government is "suspicious of any activity outside its direct control." Local officials also discourage public discussions of HIV/AIDS out of a fear of embarrassment or lack of investment, the report says (Hoo, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/15). Government officials also use the country's pornography laws to censor Web sites aimed at gay men and lesbians that provide HIV/AIDS-related information, according to the report (AFP/Yahoo! News, 6/15). "China's laws on pornography say that any Web site with homosexual content is automatically considered to be obscene," Davis said, adding, "That's not only discriminatory -- in the context of the AIDS epidemic, it is self-destructive" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/15).
Henan Province, Recommendations
The report also details multiple examples of harassment in recent years in the country's Henan province, where many farmers in the early and mid-1990s contracted HIV through unsafe blood collection procedures during government-sponsored blood collection programs, Toronto's Globe and Mail reports (York, Globe and Mail, 6/15). The report describes how police have closed an orphanage for children affected by HIV/AIDS and detained multiple HIV-positive people whose treatment was interrupted. In addition, health care workers in the province are poorly trained, patients are given sub-standard drugs and non-licensed vendors sell drugs at inflated prices, the report says (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/15). Although many advocates have spoken about these issues, officials in Henan have not addressed the problems, the report says. However, officials have detained some advocates who "complained too loudly or took matters into their own hands by initiating grass-roots initiatives to fill gaps left by the state," according to the report. It adds, "Dozens of activists have been jailed and some have even been beaten by thugs hired by local officials. Activists working in other inland provinces have reported similar problems" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/15). The report recommends that China adopt a number of measures to address the epidemic, including releasing detained advocates, implementing training for health care workers and police, ending restrictions placed on media covering the disease and instituting widespread education programs (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/15).
China 'Capable' of Containing HIV/AIDS Epidemic, Premier Says
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot on Monday that China is "determined and capable" of containing the country's HIV/AIDS epidemic despite Piot's warning that a "truly exceptional response" by China is needed to fight the disease, AFP/Yahoo! News reports. Wen said the Chinese government is making HIV/AIDS a priority and will make new efforts to fight the disease. He said China has "greatly increased" spending to fight HIV/AIDS and established a high-level committee to oversee prevention efforts. Piot said he is impressed with China's commitment to fighting the disease but that China still faces challenges, including assuring that efforts reach the local level. "The key challenge right now for China is to make sure the many good projects can reach the whole country," Piot said. Although China in 2003 announced it would provide antiretroviral treatment at no cost, Piot said the program is moving "quite slowly," with only 15,000 people receiving the drugs as of March. In addition, the program has a dropout rate of 20% because of a lack of medical supervision and because the drugs reach many people too late. Piot said China needs to provide more prevention programs for high-risk groups and make HIV/AIDS education available in every school (AFP/Yahoo! News, 6/14). The Chinese government estimates that there are 840,000 HIV-positive people in the country and that 80,000 of those people have AIDS. However, international experts and advocates say that the actual number of HIV-positive people in China probably is between one million and 1.5 million. UNAIDS has said that the number of HIV-positive people living in China could increase to 10 million by 2010 unless steps are taken to address the epidemic (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/8).