Villagers turn to music to prevent the spread of AIDS

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In south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, an area renowned for its history of musical folklore, local residents have found a unique way to spread knowledge regarding AIDS prevention.

"All people unite to fight AIDS! AIDS will stay away if we are equipped with AIDS knowledge," state the lyrics of one song that was penned by local songwriters as part of a local anti-AIDS campaign.

"We asked eight local singers to write and record songs about the disease. We think this is an effective way for local people to acquire AIDS knowledge," said 55-year-old Huang Zhanghui, a resident of the village of Shantun. He said that the songs are played through loudspeakers in his village every evening.

The songwriting campaign has been effective because folk songs are a traditional artform in the region, making them more readily understandable and acceptable for local residents, Huang said.

Guangxi has been one of the hardest-hit areas in China in terms of the number of AIDS infections discovered there, ranking only after central China's Henan Province. More than 76 percent of the infections are sexually transmitted, according to Ge Xianmin, an official from the AIDS prevention office of the Guangxi regional government.

Bama County, which administers Shantun, is known for the longevity of its residents. Nearly 2,500 of its residents are more than 80 years old, and another 81 have celebrated their 100th birthdays.

"We will not let AIDS threaten this tradition," Huang said.

Huang was selected to be the head of the village's AIDS prevention office just two months ago. In addition to the creation of folk songs, the office spreads AIDS prevention knowledge through text messages and publicly screened films.

"We have been making progress with our anti-AIDS campaign. Nearly all of our villagers know how AIDS is transmitted and how to prevent it," he said.

There are more than 160 AIDS prevention groups in the city of Hechi, which administers Bama County.

Lu Meirong, 33, joined a local women's anti-AIDS group in June.

"I used to flush at the simple mention of sexual topics," she said. However, she says that she is now comfortable reminding her husband and other relatives to stay away from sex workers and to use condoms during intercourse.

She has also told other women in the village to keep an eye on their family members as well. "I tell them to remind their migrant relatives to be tested for HIV after returning home," she said.

Wei Kaizhong, head of the health bureau of the city of Hechi, believes that the mode of peer education on HIV/AIDS prevention is necessary among villagers.

"In this way, we can weave a network at the grassroots level," he said.

More than 370,000 Chinese adults and children were estimated to be living with HIV as of the end of 2010, according to the China HIV/AIDS Information Network.

Nearly two-thirds of China's AIDS carriers are believed to be living in rural areas. Rural residents have a significantly higher risk of contracting the disease than urban residents, according to Ge.

"Rural areas are the weakest links in China's AIDS prevention efforts. Campaigns conducted by local residents are the most economical and effective way to stop the spread of AIDS," Ge said.

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