The first HIV carrier ever to address a national ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing spoke before a crowd of top health officials, experts and students to mark World AIDS Day on December 1.
"HIV/AIDS patients look forward to a life just like everyone else," said the young man known as Xiao Wei. "We want to love and be loved."
Xiao Wei was invited to the ceremony along with Lao Ji, who is also infected with HIV. They are both from Northwest China's Shaanxi Province and were infected with the virus after they came into contact with tainted medical supplies when they sold blood to an illegal blood center.
Their speeches kicked off a month-long campaign to educate young people around the country about the disease and to ask them to play an active role in disease prevention and raising awareness.
In line with the theme of the United Nation's 15th World AIDS Day - "Live and let live" - experts in China expressed their sincere commitments to better care for HIV/AIDS patients and fight the disease which has ravaged the country.
In the coming month, numerous public education activities will be held to educate the public about HIV/AIDS and teach people to care for all patients suffering from the disease, said Li Lanqing, vice-premier of the State Council.
Data from the Ministry of Health shows that as of June 2002, there are about 1 million HIV/AIDS patients in China, a year-on-year increase of 16 percent.
Experts warn that unless comprehensive effective measures are taken, the number may increase to 10 million by 2010.
Public education about the disease has not been enough, said Vice-Minister of Health Ma Xiaowei.
In the vast rural areas where the majority of HIV/AIDS victims live, more than 70 percent of the local people are not knowledgeable of HIV/AIDS, Ma said.
It is this ignorance about the disease that causes fear and discrimination against people infected with HIV/AIDS, said Rodney Hatfield, deputy regional director of the United Nations Children's Fund East Asia and Pacific Regional Office.
This social stigma prevents HIV/AIDS patients from acknowledging their status and seeking treatment, he added.
Hatfield's words were echoed by Pu Cunxin, a well-known actor in China and an outspoken AIDS activist.
Discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients does even more harm than the virus itself, Pu said yesterday.
To strengthen the public awareness across the country, an educational 12-episode television program will be broadcast by China Central Television to more than 1,000 local TV stations.
In addition to this program, China's first modern play on AIDS debuted in Beijing over the weekend and will perform around the country to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS patients.
The drama, called "Waking Up," tells the tragic tale of an undergraduate student who is infected with HIV.
The play not only introduces scientific knowledge about AIDS, but also explores ethical and moral issues and how HIV/AIDS patients are treated, said Vice-President of the China Family Planning Association Yang Kuifu.
More funds needed
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health has applied for 100 million yuan (US$12 million) from the central government's financial allocation for HIV/AIDS control next year, sources with the ministry said.
The ministry is also applying for special funds of approximately US$90 million a year from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria, said Hao Yang, division chief with the Department of Disease Control under the Ministry of Health.
The global fund, established in 2001 under UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, collects donations from various countries.
Hao and his colleagues have recently sent 1 million yuan (US$120,000) worth of medicine to Wenlou Village in Shangcai County in Central China's Henan Province. However this is only enough to help 100 people in the short term. Wenlou has a registered 400 HIV/AIDS patients who were infected after selling their blood.
In China, most HIV/AIDS patients still lack access to medical services and medicine, Hao said.
Since 2001, the central government has allocated 100 million yuan (US$12 million) annually for HIV/AIDS control and treatment.
More than 1 billion yuan (US$120 million) has also been spent on rebuilding blood stations and improving safety during blood donations.
However the funds are far from enough to control this deadly disease that runs rampant in some parts of the country, experts warn.
The main victims of HIV/AIDS in China are rural residents who were infected while selling blood in the early 1990s.
Many of those that were infected a decade ago now have full-blown AIDS and need much more money for treatment, said Wu Zunyou, an expert from the National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention.
(China Daily December 2, 2002)