In the early 1990s, thousands of impoverished rural residents in Henan Province gave blood at local clinics which offered compensation for their blood plasma. Their blood was drawn and mixed together in a common vat, and then after the plasma was extracted patients were re-infused with the remaining blood. Tens of thousands of people acquired HIV through this method, yet were not informed of the risks or the truth about their disease after they became ill. Many of the blood stations were set up in cooperation with the local health department. A number of health workers, including retired gynecologist Gao Yaojie, were harassed or placed under house arrest for their work educating villagers about AIDS and holding the local government accountable for the scandal. HIV patients have continued to protest for better treatment and compensation after being infected through these blood stations.
Wang Shuping is a doctor who first discovered the spread of HIV through blood stations and then worked to stall the crisis. She came to the U.S. in 2001 after being repeatedly harassed and threatened for her work. Yaxue Cao at Seeing Red in China translates Dr. Wang’s account in telling the “inconvenient truth” about AIDS in China:
I knew that hepatitis C and HIV had the same routes of infection; if an HIV-infected drug user’s blood was mixed into the station, it would spread fast among donors just like hepatitis C virus. I didn’t want to sit in the office of the Health Bureau waiting for the arrival of an AIDS epidemic. I wanted to directly monitor it and prevent it. In 1994, I asked the Health Bureau to allow me to establish a clinical testing center. It was approved but with no government funding provided. The Bureau assigned another three people to work in the center. I raised money myself, essentially using my own savings to buy testing equipment, while the Bureau authorized us to exercise quality control on blood safety in hospitals and blood stations across the District.
In March 1995, I was sent by the Health Bureau to test a donor by the last name Guo in Taikang County. He had been tested HIV positive when he was giving blood in a blood station in Kunming, Yunnan province. Mr. Guo told me that, for the last two weeks or so since he returned from Kunming, he had sold blood in Tuocheng County (柘城), Huaiyang County (淮阳), and Taikang County. Our testing found him HIV positive. I recommended the leaders of the Office of Medical Affairs of the Department of Health, Henan province, to immediately test HIV antibody in all the blood stations across the province. But they said it would be too costly and couldn’t be done.
[…] The leaders from the provincial Department of Health asked me, “How come you could discover AIDS while others didn’t?” I understood very well that they wanted me to keep it secret, because exposing the epidemic would botch their job evaluation as officials. Dismayed, I said, “I hope you don’t upbraid me for now. You should go visiting the 17 stations of plasma collection that are collecting blood as we speak. In these 17 stations, there are at least 500 people who are being infected by hepatitis C and HIV every day.” According to newspaper reports at the time, Henan province alone had almost 400 stations of plasma collection, and most of the blood used in hospitals came from these stations. It was impossible to know how many hospital patients had been infected with hepatitis C and HIV. A police officer got hepatitis C from transfusion he received after being wounded in a chase. He and his family were deeply upset about it.
Following that, a retired leader of the Health Bureau came to my clinical testing center telling me, “You will be in trouble if you don’t close down the center.” The next day he came with a long baton and smashed the sign of the center with it. Then, he went into the rooms to smash the equipment. I tried to block him, and he hit me with his baton. Presently a lot of people crowded around us to watch. Some pulled him back. That way I got out of danger. I called the police station immediately, and when the officers came to get him, he cried and made a scene. He screamed, “Certain leaders sent me to beat her. Now that the police came, none of them is forthcoming!”