Premier Wen Jiabao invited 15 AIDS-affected children to the Chinese leadership's Beijing compound to play, to sing and chat on the World AIDS Day.
Before meeting the premier, the children -- two HIV positive and 13 orphaned by the virus -- were given a tour of Zhongnanhai, the headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party, where generations of Chinese leaders have worked.
The kids chatted and smiled as they walked through the office of former premier Zhou Enlai and the guest hall where Premier Wen Jiabao meets foreign guests.
With a crimson ribbon pinned on his black jacket, Wen walked with the children into a small hall decorated with balloons and red ribbons, the global symbol of the fight against AIDS.
The children presented Wen their drawings, in which they pictured their life and dreams.
Standing in front of a drawing titled "We are all the same", Wen said, "It is a very good name. No matter whether they are orphaned by AIDS or carrying the virus, everybody should care for them instead of casting discrimination."
The children also lined up and sang for the premier: "How many loves do I still have, how many tears do I still have...."
"I can hear that you are singing with your hearts," said Wen, who appeared to be on the verge of tears.
"We have done a lot to combat HIV/AIDS, but the job is not well done," Wen said. "By all means, we are going to send a signal that more care should be given to AIDS-affected children."
Wen chatted with each child, listening to their stories and encouraging them to bravely face their difficulties and be confident.
Before the end of the one-hour meeting, Wen gave the kids gifts of stationery and books and took photos with them.
Experts estimated that more than 76,000 children in China have lost parents to AIDS, and the number could soar to 260,000 by 2010. Over 800 children were recorded HIV carriers.
"Children are the most vulnerable group and they are also the hope for the future, which explains Premier Wen's focus on them," Dr. Henk Bekedam, WHO's China representative, told Xinhua.
Bekedam said AIDS-affected children in China were generally cared for by charity groups and the government, "but they need more care from society."
"Premier Wen's move will have significant impact on the promotion of social care for AIDS-affected children in China," Bekedam said.
From shying away from the topic to mobilizing the whole society to battle HIV/AIDS, China has undergone significant changes in its attitude toward the disease.
Wen acknowledged that changes in the public health sector took place after the SARS outbreak in 2003.
"In the past, many of our officials only knew of GDP and not of the CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention). But actually the CDC has a closer relationship to the lives of the people," Wen told Margaret Chan, the newly-elected World Health Organization chief on Wednesday.
But experts have always worried that central government's determination was poorly understood at the grassroots.
Wu Zunyou, an official at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said he used to feel "shocked and indignant" at the ignorance of local officials of the country's HIV/AIDS policy.
"Things are much better now," he told Xinhua, adding that Chinese leaders' high-profile meetings with AIDS patients in the past two years had an effect.
"Premier Wen's care for the AIDS-affected children will, for sure, make civil servants begin to think what they should do for the children," Wu said.
The Health Ministry said last week the number of reported HIV/AIDS cases at the end of October was 183,733, up from 144,089 at the end of 2005, but both Beijing and the United Nations estimate the true number of cases at about 650,000.
The government has invested heavily to curb the spread of the disease and pledged a series of measures to treat and care for AIDS-affected people, including free anti-retroviral treatments, free counseling and testing and free tuition for AIDS-affected children.
(Xinhua News Agency December 2, 2006)