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Yunnan Youth Learn About AIDS

Cai Hongmin, 22, stepped into a "classroom" in Kunming for the first time since he left high school four years ago, this time to learn about HIV-AIDS.

Together with 11 young men and women - all considered "high risk" - he sat in a room off a quiet street, listening to a policeman talk about AIDS - myths and realities, dos and don'ts, how to protect themselves.

All the "students" come from the Xiaochangcun district in Kunming, capital of southwest China's Yunnan Province, the area worst-affected by HIV-AIDS in China.

Most of them were jobless or worked on and off as security guards, restaurant or beauty salon staff, waiters or waitresses. They represent a group that could likely go astray without proper social guidance.

The lecture was part of the "Youngsters Life Skills Training Program," initiated last October with support from UNICEF.

"We hope they can use the knowledge in real life," said UNICEF AIDS program officer Xu Wenqing. "Girls can say 'no' to sex, boys can say 'no' to drugs. And they can tell doctors 'better give me medicine rather than an injection,' or at least, 'use clean needles,"' said Xu.

The lecturers are not regular teachers, but policemen from the Yunnan Police Officers Academy. Dai Fuqiang, who used to train local policemen and school students about the dangers of taking drugs and how to detect drug use, said he can combine his knowledge of drugs with anti-AIDS education.

Yunnan Province, bordering the world's biggest drug production base - the "Golden Triangle" - has nearly 30,000 HIV-infected people and 1,223 AIDS patients. Drug use accounts for 51.4 percent of the transmission.

UNICEF's Xu said young people are the most vulnerable group and also the most crucial in preventing the disease from spreading. He said 79 percent of those with HIV in China are under the age of 39.

Dai, the policeman-teacher, asks students which is a high-risk behavior or danger: intravenous drug use, shaking hands with an HIV-infected person, sex without condoms or a mosquito sting?

At first they're silent, then the discussion gets going. Cai Hongming, the new "student," has attended several discussions.

He most likes the role-playing about situations that may transmit HIV/AIDS. They play ordinary citizens, drug users, prostitutes or the families of HIV-infected people.

"Teaching young people life skills to stay away from HIV/AIDS has been successful," said Xu from UNICEF.

(Xinhua News Agency October 12, 2005)



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