The first couple with HIV/AIDS to wed openly in China has exchanged vows in southwest China's Sichuan Province.
The bridegroom Cao Xueliang, 37, and his 34-year-old bride Wang Daiying, both from Gongmin Town of Zizhong County in the province, took the pioneering step on behalf of thousands of fellow sufferers in China on Friday.
Many townspeople attended the wedding and more than 200, including dozens of other HIV/AIDS victims, shared in the wedding banquet, China News Service reported Sunday.
Sixty-seven residents of Gongmin Town have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, including 25 who later died of the disease. All of the infections directly or indirectly resulted from the illegal sale of blood in the early 1990s in central China's Henan Province.
Wang was infected with HIV by her former husband, He Yong, who went to Henan with Cao Xueliang to sell their blood. He died from HIV/AIDS in September 2002, leaving his wife and his 11-year-old daughter.
As the first HIV/AIDS wedding in the community, the ceremony will reduce discrimination against HIV/AIDS victims, Zhang Jianxin, an expert from Sichuan University, was quoted by local media as saying.
The wedding, supported by the China-UK HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care Project, shows compassion for people with HIV/AIDS, Zhang noted.
Townspeople said it was safe to have dinner with HIV/AIDS victims, and "we are not afraid of them any more."
The bride and groom's love and support for each other will improve their quality of life and may keep them healthy longer, said Zheng Shifan, an official with the China-UK HIV/AIDS project.
The number of newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases in China last year totaled 9,824, including 1,045 who had full-blown AIDS, according to the Ministry of Health.
By the end of 2002, 40,560 HIV/AIDS cases had been officially reported in China, but experts believe the true figure is closer to 1 million.
About 63.7 percent of China's HIV/AIDS victims were infected through drug abuse, 9.3 percent through unsafe blood transfusions and 8.1 percent through sexual contact.
One major source of infection -- the illegal blood markets once popular in regions such as Henan Province and north China's Shanxi Province in the early 1990s -- has been effectively closed down by governments.
However, many victims infected while selling their blood are now developing into AIDS patients and need more medical treatment.
Experts warn that unless authorities intervene immediately, up to 10 million Chinese could contract HIV/AIDS by 2010.
The central government has established a special office for the disease under the State Council and developed a State prevention and control program to fight the virus.
(China Daily August 4, 2003)