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Seeking Help for AIDS Orphans

The Ministry of Health estimates there are now at least 100,000 AIDS orphans in China. However, in the midst of the campaigns to raise awareness about AIDS prevention in China, the children of those who have died of the disease have been forgotten. Recently CCTV international visited the village of Wenlou, which has been devastated by AIDS, to learn more about the lives of these children.

These children are having their favorite music lesson. They seem as happy as any children their age should be. But this happiness may be short-lived. The tragedy of AIDS has already cast its shadow on their lives.

In Wenlou village in central Henan Province, more than 600 people are infected with HIV. That's half of the population. The disease has already orphaned 29 children. And more kids are expected to lose their parents as more people die from full-blown AIDS. They contracted the HIV virus in the early 1990s through unsafe blood selling organized by profiteering collectors.

Five-year-old Maru is just one of them. AIDS has hit her whole family, including her parents and grandparents, her little brother and herself. Only her elder sister is free of the disease. Her mother died two years ago and her father Ma Shenyi is stilling struggling with the disease.

Ma Shenyi is now too ill to work in the field. But he still has to take care of his little son and daughter. His biggest worry is who will take care of them if he dies.

He told CCTV: "Future? I don't know what their future will be when I die. My parents are also sick. The kids have AIDS, and the public orphanage won't take them in. Other relatives have healthy children, and they won't accept them either. I only hope the government will find a way to help."

Local officials say the government-sponsored orphanage cannot refuse to take orphans with AIDS, but so far no one has applied. Healthy orphans have two choices: go to an orphanage for AIDS orphans, or stay with relatives. The provincial government gives these relatives a little more than 100 yuan or 13 dollars each month as a living subsidy. Four children from Wenlou Village are now living in an orphanage. Local officials say there are many more to come.

Li Guohua, director of Shangcai County Orphanage, said: "More than 20 AIDS orphans have asked to come here. But we have no places. We plan to enlarge the orphanage, and construction will start in March. "

The Henan Provincial government is planning to spend 80 million yuan this year, building 38 more orphanages and primary schools in villages that are seriously affected by AIDS. However, some health experts say this is not the best way to deal with the problem. 77-year-old Gao Yaojie, a retired gynecologist-turned AIDS activist is one of these people.

AIDS Activist Gao Yaojie: "There are three major problems for these AIDS orphans: Existence, Education and Psychology. It's bad for these kids if you put them all together in an orphanage, especially for their psychological health. And some orphans living with their relatives can't get any education, their relatives just take the money."

Dr. Gao's story with AIDS orphans began in 1996. She was shocked to meet a boy who swore to kill the man who tempted his father to sell blood. She says the desire for revenge among AIDS orphans is very dangerous and will become a serious social problem if the country fails to treat them properly. When Vice-Premier Wu Yi visited this AIDS village in December, Dr. GAO told her what she believed should be done.

GAO said: "These children should live in new families with love so that they can have a proper life and education, but more importantly, be psychologically healthy."

Life's early blows have forced these children to take on a sudden maturity and sensitivity lacking in their peers. It sets them apart with an invisible label. Nine-year-old Kong Jeanie in the public orphanage always has smile on her face. But she's not willing to talk about her parents.

Aids Orphan Kong Jeanie said: "My brother and I don't want to talk about our mom and dad. If we do, it makes us sad."

But despite the dark side of her childhood trauma, she still holds on to a hope for a brighter future, for herself and her village.

"I hope I can study at college. I want to be a teacher when I grow up.

And I hope that Menlo could become a good place with tall buildings and people living happily."

The Ministry of Health estimates there are now at least 100,000 AIDS orphans in China. And if decisive action is not taken, by 2010 that number could reach 260,000. Health workers and activists say the problem of AIDS was neglected for too long. Now, the issue of AIDS orphans must be addressed properly before it's too late.

(CCTV February 23, 2004 )

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