Stigma and discrimination form the main barrier to China's HIV/AIDS prevention, said a UNICEF health official in Beijing Saturday.
Overcoming stigma and discrimination is crucial to China winning the war against AIDS, said Koen Vanormelingen, chief of the Health and Nutrition Section of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Office for China.
In China and in the rest of Asia, social and cultural discrimination prevents people from wanting to know more about AIDS, and makes it especially hard to stop the spread of the disease.
A recent investigation by Horizon Market Research, a leading survey company in China, shows that nearly 19 percent of Chinese people have never heard of AIDS, almost the highest percentage in the world. In some regions of central China's Henan Province, where unsanitary blood sales have caused a serious increase in HIV infection, the local people do not even know the term AIDS, and just call it a "mysterious disease."
In addition, for many people, HIV/AIDS is considered a disgraceful condition. Those infected with HIV are usually considered morally bad, and are therefore despised by others.
Stigma and discrimination are also very dangerous in that they may push the HIV-affected group to criminality and other behavior which destabilizes society, said Vanormelingen.
A local HIV worker in Henan was shocked by the hatred of one boy she met. " I will kill that blood trader when I grow up!" he had said. The boy's father had been infected with HIV years ago when he sold blood.
HIV/AIDS is not only a health issue, but a social one. The removal of the stigma attached to it needs the efforts of the whole of society, especially the government and senior leaders, said Vanormelingen.
Though the Chinese central government is making good progress towards HIV/AIDS prevention and care, some local officials and the public still need to pay more attention to the issue, said Vanormelingen.
In his trips around China, Vanormelingen has met many local officials who still feel the problem is some distance away, when it is actually on their doorsteps.
China reportedly now has 840,000 HIV carriers, including 80,000 AIDS patients.
"We still need more attention to be paid to this issue, as well as more commitment from the government in order to win the fight against HIV/AIDS," said Vanormelingen.
(Xinhua News Agency November 30, 2003)