Los Angeles Times Examines Increasing HIV/AIDS Awareness in China
The Los Angeles Times on Saturday examined the recent increase in efforts by the Chinese government to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. When HIV/AIDS first emerged in the 1980s, Chinese officials "stigmatized it as a disease of capitalists and foreigners," the Times reports. In addition, in the mid-1990s, tens of thousands of people in China's Henan province contracted HIV through unsanitary blood drives approved by the local government. Although many HIV-positive survivors of the contaminated transfusions have sought compensation from the government, their efforts often have led to legal trouble, the Times reports. Li Dan, an HIV/AIDS expert in Beijing, said, "[A]t the local level, there are officials who treat anybody involved with AIDS as a criminal or troublemakers." Although China's government in the past "has resorted to cover up and denial" about HIV/AIDS, in recent years "it is clear that AIDS awareness has come out of the closet" in the country as government officials recruit an "army of volunteers" to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, the Times reports.
According to the Times, the amount of misinformation about HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in China is "staggering." In a recent poll of 6,000 Chinese students, migrant workers, and blue- and white-collar workers, about 48% of people thought that mosquitoes can transmit HIV. In contrast, volunteer groups in the country now distribute condoms at bars and bath houses, and high school students in the Chaoyang administrative district on World AIDS Day 2008 listened to lectures and recited pledges to combat the disease. The Chinese government on World AIDS Day also displayed a giant red ribbon banner from the National Stadium used in the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics, and President Hu Jintau and Premier Wen Jiabao appeared in photographs with their arms around HIV-positive people. In addition, the Chinese media has "been filled with photographs and editorials about combating the discrimination and isolation" of people living with HIV, the Times reports. It is "[t]ime to recognize that AIDS is a disease, not a shame," the official New China News Agency recently said.
According to the Times, about 700,000 people or more in China are HIV-positive, which is less than 0.1% of the population. However, the virus' disproportionate effect on certain populations has "alarmed" the government, the Times reports. Migrant workers are particularly at risk of HIV because many come from rural areas with limited sex education and often visit commercial sex workers during time spent away from home. In response to an increasing HIV prevalence among migrant workers, the Chinese government last month released a short educational film about an HIV-positive migrant worker. HIV prevalence among injection drug users also is relatively high, particularly in the Yunnan province bordering Myanmar and in the Xinjiang region. Ju He, a Beijing-based HIV/AIDS advocate, said it is "very difficult" to address HIV among this population because local governments often consider IDUs criminals. During a meeting of nongovernmental organizations held from Dec. 8-10 in Beijing, advocates described China's efforts to address HIV as "schizophrenic." However, Xiao Dong, leader of a volunteer HIV/AIDS group in the city, said that although China has "made some terrible mistakes in the past" regarding efforts to address HIV, "there has been a great deal of change" (Demick, Los Angeles Times, 12/20).