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Joint Efforts in Combating AIDS

The United States has promised to invest 15 million yuan (about US$1.8 million) in central China's Henan Province within five years to help deal with AIDS. The program, part of the Global AIDS Program/China, is sponsored by the US government and implemented by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

US Ambassador to China, Clark Randt, launched the program at Wenlou village, Henan province on Friday. Randt said the launching of the GAP program in Henan is particularly significant, because Henan is one of the provinces hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Henan health authorities welcome the assistance, saying technological support and staff training are what they need most.

According to the provincial Health Bureau, the first HIV/AIDS case in Henan was reported in 1995. By the end of March 2004, the number jumped to more than 14,000. Most of the people became infected through illegal or inappropriate blood collection during the mid-1990s.

Wenlou, a hardest hit village in Henan Province has come to symbolize China's struggle with AIDS.

The disease has affected every family here: many people are HIV positive, some have lost family members and all of them have lost friends.

In 2003, the provincial government sent 76 officials to the worst affected areas. Chen Ruijin, one of them, is now responsible for overseeing AIDS related projects in the village. Under Chen's direction, a new clinic has been built.

"Infrastructure projects like this are playing a key role in increasing the desire of the villagers for a better life", Chen said

The provincial government set itself the goal of providing each AIDS affected village in Henan with five basic needs: a paved road, a well, a school, an orphanage and a clinic. Local officials say the government could spend as much as US$1 million renovating the village.

This brand new road used to be a dirt track. On the day we visited, the villagers were celebrating the opening of the new clinic. Most of these young women are HIV positive.

A villager said, "I like these changes, and happy to see the new roads and clinics in the village."

But not everyone is happy.

There is a woman argues with Chen, telling him as an official you have to take better care of the poorer residents. They are arguing over the new houses, and who should get them first.

It's not an easy choice. The village is extremely poor, and much work still needs to be done. Cheng Yanshang and his wife Wei Pan are both HIV positive. They caught the disease selling blood in the 1990s. Now they are growing weaker. But they have no-one to help them on the land.

Villagers agree that the new clinic and other projects are necessary. But they feel more could be done.

A villager named Meng Jieshi said that there were so many AIDS patients that they had only ourselves to rely on. Meng believes the next step for Wenlou should be a business, something the villagers feel is their own, a way forward that will help them better themselves. The government has allocated US$10 million to fight AIDS in Henan. But the changes in Wenlou should only be the beginning.

To shed its reputation as a notorious AIDS village, officials in Wenlou are trying to recreate it as a pioneer in the fight against AIDS. But villagers here continue to die, and they are demanding the government do more to help them.

Official figures show that the estimated number of HIV carriers in China is 840,000, among whom 80,000 are patients.

(CCTV May 30, 2004)

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