In China, if someone is diagnosed with AIDS, they have to face not only a possible quick death but also the loss of their dignity as a human being, said Kang Laiyi, a senior professor specializing in the study of AIDS.
"Even in Shanghai, the so-called international metropolis, AIDS patients do not fare any better," he added.
Last year a local boy was found to have AIDS after a blood transfusion. When the news was wafted to his father's factory, all his colleagues dodged him as if they were avoiding a deadly plague.
They didn't allow the unfortunate father to dine with them in the same canteen. Nor did they allow him to take the factory bus, even after he took a test proving he was not infected with the virus.
Research proves that ordinary contact like shaking hands or eating together does not involve any danger. "Yet science pales before people's great fear of the terminal disease," Kang said.
Kang remembered one of the earliest AIDS case found in North China's Hebei Province in the late-1980s. A doctor went to Tanzania to help develop medical technology for the Tanzanians. During an operation, he became infected with the virus through a cut in his arm.
He did not realize what had happened until after his return to China several months later when the virus was detected during a medical check-up. His wife sent him to the local isolation hospital but no patients would share the same ward with him.
His wife went back to her company only to find all her belongings had been cleared out and piled outside the office. She was fired because her husband was an AIDS patient.
The most ridiculous thing was that they couldn't even buy things from the shops in their neighborhood. Those who knew her husband had AIDS, refused to take her money out of fear that a single touch of the note might pass the terminal disease on to them.
More than 10 years have passed but people's fear and discrimination towards AIDS victims does not seem to have abated.
In Shanghai, even the crematoriums are treating AIDS victims differently. They won't allow the bodies of AIDS victims to enter the crematorium although hospitals have made it clear that the bodies have been disinfected.
"Many times we have had to change the cause of death from AIDS to hepatitis to ensure that the dead would be burned," said Kang.
In Shanghai, people are willing to raise money to help those suffering from other diseases like leukemia or heart disease or strokes. But as for AIDS, no one wants to have any involvement.
"Rarely are there any donations raised for AIDS," said Kang.
"Many patients cannot afford the huge costs for treatment and are just waiting for death without any medicine to alleviate their pain."
In China, people still think that only those who are filthy and degraded could get the disease.
Too Many Suffer
The Party School of the Chinese Communist Party recently organized an AIDS symposium among some 300 medium-level officials from the country's different regions. A survey made before the symposium found that 31.2 percent of them thought it necessary to restrict the promotion opportunities of HIV carriers and 19.2 percent thought it was practical for health authorities to refuse to treat AIDS patients.
And 6.4 percent of people think that a school has the right to exclude children whose parents are AIDS patients.
"It is easy for you to imagine how poorly AIDS patients fare as even policymakers can't treat them with fairness," Kang said.
Earlier this year in some cities several cases were reported of people pretending to be AIDS victims who pointed injection needles at passers-by.
(Shanghai Star September 23, 2002)