They came from across the country with their power point
presentations. Their aim was to get funds to make HIV/AIDS
patients' life better and prevent the spread of the deadly disease.
And all the seven presenters were grassroots non-government
Such NGOs are a key force in the fight against the killer virus
because most of their volunteers are HIV/AIDS patients and thus
know the pain. Even Vice-Minister of Health Wang Longde, who heads
the country's AIDS control work, has acknowledged their vital role
and vowed to help them in the battle against AIDS.
Thanks to the government's recognition, such NGOs are no longer
seen as troublemakers. In fact, they have developed greatly in the
past five years, says Chinese Association of STD/AIDS Prevention
deputy secretary Luo Mei.
"Despite the progress and a more favorable environment, such
NGOs still face a lot of problems. In such a situation, increasing
their capability should be on top of their agenda," says Luo, who
was part of a five-judge panel in Shenyang, capital of Northeast
China's Liaoning Province, to decide which of the
seven powerpoint presenters should get the 10,000-yuan (US$1,320)
grant. One of China's leading organizations in the field,
Beijing-based Ark of Love (ARL), organized the Shenyang workshop
An HIV-positive since the early 1980s, ARL director Meng Lin
(alias) told the workshop, attended by 100-odd NGO representatives:
"Tapping such NGOs' resources is a global phenomenon in the
successful battle against AIDS."
"With government help, the grassroots NGOs can fulfill the
mission of helping HIV/AIDS patients legally, orderly and
strategically," Meng told the largely HIV-positive audience. "And
only by improving the capability can such NGOs win more public and
government support, both in terms of funds and policy." But
unfortunately, most of the AIDS-support programs presented at the
workshop lacked variety and innovation.
All the proposals had programs like home visits to increase
patients' adherence to drugs, peer education for safe sex,
information support hotline and self-help projects such as growing
vegetables. "We need a wider choice of programs, and that can be
done only by the NGOs," says Humphrey Wou, director of US-based
AIDS Relief Fund for China.
Sun Luqing runs the only NGO for HIV/AIDS patients in Heze in
East China's Shandong Province. The 34-year-old gay who
quit studies after the nine-year compulsory education says: "Most
of our 38 members are between 34 and 50 and are farmers who were
infected in the 1990s because of a faulty blood 'donation' scheme.
That's why making a grant-winning proposal is beyond our
capability. Honestly speaking, I had no idea what power point was
all about before preparing the proposal for the workshop."
Sun was, however, lucky. He got the help of Zhang Jidong, a
local doctor and volunteer, to prepare his power point presentation
for a garlic-growing project. The proposal clinched the grant for
Another problem plaguing such NGOs is a serious lack of
leadership talent, Luo says. The policy constraints encountered by
the majority of grassroots NGOs to get registered and their
inadequate financial resources and limited influence make the
demand for talented leadership all the more important. And only an
intelligent leader can fully tap the potential of an NGO.
An NGO can't have legal status or open a bank account if it's
not registered. It can't get overseas funds either. "We don't have
enough money to carry out even the basic work," says Sun. "How can
we NGOs in the countryside hire well-educated people?"
The condition of urban NGOs is a lot better because they get 70
percent of the overseas AIDS care funds every year. The irony is
that HIV/AIDS patients in rural areas need such help more than
their counterparts in the cities.
But despite all the obstacles, HIV/AIDS patients need to be and
can be taught skills such as how to prepare fund-raising proposals,
the art of planning and management and the ways to deal with local
governments, says Luo.
And then there are NGOs that can't even define their specific
mission, let alone their strategies, Luo says. Take Xiao Pang (name
changed), of a Shenyang-based community for HIV-positive gays, for
example. The third-year journalism student of a Harbin university
thinks an NGO should get funds first and talk about how to
implement its strategies later. "Without money we can't do
anything," he says.
Getting the local government's support for more NGO programs is
the biggest problem facing Ren Guoliang, a 26-year-old gay with a
college degree in communication. Ren heads Shaanxi Family of Love,
an NGO based in Xi'an, China's ancient capital famous for the
Terracotta Warriors. The local government doesn't clear a large
part of overseas funds especially granted to AIDS care NGOs, he
says, calling for a dialogue mechanism with the government.
Ren's problem is not imaginary because despite the overall
improvement in policy for AIDS care NGOs, some local governments
still don't fully recognize their importance in the battle against
the deadly disease, says Jia Ping, a Beijing-based AIDS lawyer.
But the problem has another dimension, too, says Jia. With more
and more overseas anti-AIDS funds flowing into China, the conflict
of interests among NGOs is beginning to show. The reason is simple:
they are seeking the same grants from the same foundations. "That
to a great extent leads to a spate of verbal abuses and muckraking
among the NGOs. But again this problem is also growing in the rest
of the world."
In such a situation, the role of the government is vital. It can
create a healthy atmosphere for civil society to help in the fight
against AIDS by offering more economic support to NGOs and by
improving the policy/legal environment, Jia says. "It can start by
devising a fast track for AIDS care NGOs' registration."
Luo Mei says removing discrimination "is the first step towards
empowering HIV patients and NGOs because they need a favorable
environment to stand up for themselves. AIDS victims and healthy
people are equal. Donors have no right to feel superior".
It's important, too, to strengthen communication and cooperation
among all AIDS are NGOs, says Meng. China Alliance of People Living
with HIV/AIDS, a long-term dialogue mechanism, was set up to unite
all such groups so that the maximum number of people could benefit
from NGOs' work. The central government has, on its part, set up an
HIV/AIDS response mechanism with government leadership,
multi-sectional cooperation and social participation.
But a lot more needs to be done to tend to the country's 650,000
HIV/AIDS patients, especially if the government wants to, and
there's no doubt it does, arrest the spread of the killer on the
(China Daily August 8, 2007)