Activists and Awareness Still Constrained as China Vows to Fight AIDS Discrimination

Chinese health authorities marked World AIDS Day on Sunday, November 30 by unveiling a giant red ribbon in a ceremony at the Olympic Bird’s Nest Stadium.  The ribbon at the stadium is symbolic of China’s pledge to work with the U.N. AIDS agency to combat discrimination against people with HIV and AIDS.  It is also a loud sign that Chinese political leaders in recent years have been singing a different tune about AIDS.  From AP:

Organizers [of the ceremony at the Bird’s Nest] said the fear of being stigmatized at work or in their communities is discouraging many people at risk of HIV infection from being tested. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

After years of denying that AIDS was a problem, Chinese leaders have shifted gears in recent years, confronting the disease more openly and promising anonymous testing, free treatment for the poor and a ban on discrimination against people with the virus.

State television Sunday showed Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visiting a village hit particularly hard by AIDS in eastern China’s Anhui province. Wen, who makes such annual visits to mark World AIDS Day, observed Monday, held hands with children orphaned by AIDS and spoke to patients in beds.

The Chinese government’s high-profile gesture of acceptance apparently still does not extend to activists campaigning for people with HIV and AIDS.  Another AP article reports that a Chinese AIDS activist was detained by police and sent out of Beijing after participating in World AIDS Day:

Li Xige, who is HIV positive, said she had managed to escape house arrest in her rural town, but that local police tracked her to Beijing.

Li, who campaigns for compensation for victims of infected blood transfusions, said she was taken from her hotel by police early Tuesday, two days after participating in an official event at the Olympic Bird’s Nest stadium for World AIDS Day.

“Four (local) police and one township official took me on the train and accompanied me home,” Li said in a telephone interview. She said she is allowed to leave her house, although is trailed by police, and must avoid traveling to places like Beijing.

Beijing Calling weighs in with a blog post about the Chinese government’s persistent failure to educate the Chinese public about AIDS and HIV:

A survey this year of residents in six Chinese cities found more than 48 percent thought they could become infected from mosquito bites, and 18 percent believed they could catch it by being sneezed or coughed on by someone living with HIV.

In addition, nearly 32 percent thought the people who have HIV/AIDS deserved it because of their drug use or sexual behaviour; almost 48 percent would not eat with someone with HIV; and 30 percent felt children with HIV should not attend the same schools as uninfected children.

While these statistics about people’s attitudes towards HIV/AIDS are frightening, the government is doing little to dispel rumours or correct misconceptions. While Chinese state media wrote about the survey, they didn’t explain medically or scientifically there was nothing wrong with touching a person infected with HIV, or explain the almost impossible chances of getting infected from a mosquito bite.

Nor do the articles or any government information say anything about how people should practice safe sex or that say, using condoms are the best way to not only prevent HIV/AIDS but also other sexually-transmitted diseases as well as unwanted pregnancies.

The government always seems to skip a step each time when they claim they are informing their citizens. The same goes for environmental protection. They tell people to care more about the environment, but then don’t explain that this entails not littering, separating your garbage, and using less packaging and plastic bags.

Read more about AIDS in China under CDT’s AIDS tag.


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