Apart from SARS, another disease repeatedly making the headlines in China and the world in 2003 is HIV/AIDS. Official figures say there are now at least 840,000 HIV-positive people in China, and 80,000 AIDS patients. One lady stands out among the rest in the fight against this killer disease, and she stands out for more than her senior age and large glasses. She is 77-year-old Gao Yaojie, a retired gynecologist in central China's Henan Province.
Her story with AIDS began in 1996 when a group of doctors came to her for consultations on a mysterious case. Doctor Gao realized the female patient had AIDS.
Since that time, she has traveled the length and breadth of Henan Province, gauging the spread of AIDS, and bringing comfort and educational pamphlets to villages where many people did not even know the name of the disease that was wreaking havoc among their community.
Since the beginning of the year 2000, Doctor Gao has been calling for more help for the growing number of AIDS orphans in her home province. She thinks three issues are essential for these poor orphans: existence, education, and psychology.
"I think psychology is more important than existence and education, because those AIDS orphans think they have been cheated. Once when I was passing by a village, I met a group of kids. One of them muttered, 'when I grow up, I'll kill him'. I patted the boy on his head and asked who he was talking about. He said: 'the man who tempted my father to sell blood'. I immediately realized that he was an AIDS orphan. His father caught the disease when selling blood to illegal and unsanitary blood stations. If one kid feels this way, it may not mean too much. But if all the AIDS orphans feel the same, what troubles lie ahead for the stability and security of our society?"
Such thinking greatly worried Gao Yaojie and she decided to help those kids. For three years, she sent a total of 80,000 yuan to help more than 160 AIDS orphans. Where did the money come from?
"20,000 yuan came out of my own pocket. I raised another 20,000 from my medical practice. For example, if somebody came to me for medical treatment, I wouldn't bill him. Instead, I would give him an address and ask him to send some money there. How much was left up to him. Some would send one or two thousand yuan, while others would send just 40. The rest of the money came from public donations. "
But sending money to the AIDS orphans didn't bring about good results. Some relatives of these kids would just take the money and spend it without giving any attention to the kids. So doctor Gao changed her tactics. She started to look for new families for these AIDS orphans. After hard efforts from Gao Yaojie, six kids have joined new families in Caoxian County in east China's Shandong Province. As a doctor, Gao Yaojie also has her own principles. Before bringing any kid to a new family, she would first bring him for a blood test to show that the kid was healthy and free of HIV/AIDS.
Gao Yaojie's devotion to helping AIDS orphans has affected her own family life. On one Chinese Lunar New Year-the Spring Festival, she brought several AIDS orphans to her family for the holiday season. Her son didn't like the idea and refused to celebrate the holiday with her.
Both Gao Yaojie and his husband are retired doctors. To help those kids, Gao Yaojie has kept her family spending at a low level.
"My life is arranged in this way. Previously, I looked after the family income, but I ended up spending it all on helping these kids. My husband wasn't too happy, so he took the responsibility from me. He would take both our salaries, about 4,000 yuan per month, in his hands. Each month, he would give me an allowance of 700 yuan. I only spend about 200 yuan per month, as I don't drink milk or any other soft drinks. And I don't buy any snack food for myself. I never buy myself new clothes. My daughter-in-law would buy me some new clothes. She always complains that I'm not well-dressed. I don't mind spending my money on the AIDS orphans."
But the family's younger generation has a different idea about how to spend money.
"Once I won an international human rights award and got a prize of 30,000 US dollars. My grandson came to me and said, Grandma, let's buy a car. I'll drive and you can sit in the car. I told him to stop dreaming. Why buy a car? Some people cannot even afford to feed themselves. Why should I buy a car? I told him if he wants to go out, he can take a bus. My money would be better spent on other things. So I got 30,000 AIDS awareness booklets printed out. I also had my newsletter printed out, about 500,000 copies. I think the most urgent issue now is for people to learn more about AIDS, not my need for a car."
Gao Yaojie is now a heroine among those fighting AIDS in China, and beyond. As the Chinese government and society have started to confront the disease with the gravity it deserves, the senior doctor is still looking for her next task.
"What should I do next? First, I'll continue to help people become aware of AIDS. I'll write another book to let people know what disease the AIDS is, and how to prevent it. I'll tell them that it is possible to live with AIDS, and its victims. Second, I'll try my best to resolve the three pressing issues for AIDS orphans, namely, the existence, education, and psychology."
Some people would attribute Gao Yaojie's resolve against AIDS to her stubborn traits. She might be a stubborn person. For example, she still remembers how her medical education was interrupted by the Japanese invasion in the 1930s. She remembered the indiscriminate bombing the Japanese troops had carried out against her city, Zhengzhou, the capital city of central China's Henan Province. In fact, her memories of those days remain so vivid that she still refuses to grant interviews with Japanese journalists. But her fight against AIDS has definitely gone beyond her stubbornness. She's afraid that if nothing is done, AIDS could leave China vulnerable. And the ordinary people in a state have a responsibility to promote its rise and prevent its fall.
"I think people should live for the good of society, not just themselves. Every person should learn to give. And this will benefit the whole society."
(CRI February 10, 2004)