A doctor's fight against AIDS in China's remote village

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Yin Zuluan's family thought she was quite stubborn as she refused to consider their repeated suggestions to quit her job as a doctor in a remote village in southwest China's Yunnan Province.

For more than 14 years, Yin has been spending most of her time in Guangsong Village, Dehong Prefecture, visiting her HIV-positive patients and raising the awareness of the villagers about how to control the deadly virus. The village borders the Golden Triangle, an area where Laos, Myanmar and Thailand meet, and where vast fields of poppies grow as ingredients for heroin-based drugs.

"Because of the uncontrollable drug abuse, many drug addicts have been infected with HIV, and many children have been orphaned as their parents died of AIDS. They need me," Yin told Xinhua.

Among the 3,000 villagers in the village, 76 have been tested HIV-positive, with another five percent still refusing to receive HIV tests, she said.

Not only the village, the virus has now found its way across China. According to the country's Ministry of Health (MOH), since the 1980s when the disease first emerged in the country, the total registered AIDS patients and HIV carriers have surpassed 370,000, with more than 130,000 being AIDS patients.

In 2004, Guangsong Village was selected for a pilot program, and Yin's job was to perform HIV tests on each villager and help with interventions to prevent others from becoming infected. The job was never easy.

"Many villagers could not understand us when we first started testing. They threatened us with long knives, and even let out their dogs to attack us when I came," Yin recalled.

"I just went and went and went," she said. "For 17 times I went in one case."

After her continuous efforts and government support, the villagers gradually changed their attitudes and even made friends with her, she said.

"There was one HIV infected villager, the one I went to visit 17 times. Now we get along quite well. He later got married and had a baby. His wife and his kid are both HIV negative," Yin said.

An infected villager surnamed Tan told Xinhua that Yin was a savior of his family. He caught the virus after sharing needles with other drug users, and his wife was infected through him, though at that time he had no idea that he had already contracted the disease.

After Yin received their test results, she immediately asked his wife to take intervention measures, as the wife was just found to be pregnant. Now their son is 1 year old, and tests show he is HIV negative.

"She cares about us, and she always tries whatever she can to help us," Tan said.

Yin's work has proved to be effective. Over the past five years, only one couple have been found to be newly infected with the disease, and the wife came from Myanmar.

In March this year, Yin was awarded the Barry and Martin's Prize, an English award given to people and institutions which have done excellent work in AIDS prevention, treatment and care.

Lu Lin, head of the Yunnan provincial center for disease control and prevention, said what Yin was doing represented the future direction of China's battle to fight AIDS.

"She has represented the crucial role model of the community-based HIV and AIDS control and prevention, which is essential for China in the long-term battle against AIDS," said Lu, who is also a member of the AIDS advisory committee of China's MOH.

"Village doctors have an accurate command of patients in the village, their disease background and play more important roles than experts in cities," he said. "If we want to succeed in fighting the disease, communities and villages are our main battleground."

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