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AIDS Education Has New Twist

University students in Shanghai will soon have an opportunity to learn the basics of AIDS in a new way - from their peers.

During the next two weekends, the Shanghai Red Cross will teach 80 volunteers who are 27 or younger what steps can be taken to prevent AIDS infection; the danger of unprotected sex, intravenous drug use and sharing needles; and how medical professionals treat those with HIV virus, which can lead to AIDS.

Beginning on May 20, the trainees will step into 21 local universities and colleges to have peer-to-peer discussions with students, Red Cross officials said.

The peer counseling approach - unlike lectures given by doctors or teachers - allows the so-called "peer counselors" to discuss AIDS in a manner in which a student will feel like they're talking with a friend, allowing for more candor about what has been a sensitive subject in China, they added. During the 90-minute program, counselors will even play games with students that are intended to dramatize situations involving AIDS prevention and treatment.

AIDS peer counseling was initiated in Australia in 1980s, and has spread worldwide. Chinese officials said pilot programs launched last year in four provinces and regions, including Yunnan Province and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, have been successful.

"Youngsters seem more willing to share their opinions with their peers and accept their advice because they are more relaxed when talking about the topic with people of the same age," said Lu Weihua, vice director of the Shanghai Red Cross' training department.

As of November, there were 464 HIV-positive people and 64 AIDS patients, including 34 who died of the disease, in Shanghai, said city health officials.

An estimated 850,000 people in China have the HIV virus or AIDS as of December 31, and an additional 30,736 people have been confirmed as HIV carriers, state health authorities reported last week. They also said 53.6 percent of HIV-positive people are 20 to 29 years old.

A Red Cross survey last year of approximately 20,000 college students in Shanghai found that 77 percent don't know how AIDS is transmitted nor do they know how they can protect themselves from getting he HIV virus. Some consider AIDS to be a plague and said they would shun anyone who has AIDS.

"While most expressed a desire to learn about AIDS, they said they are too embarrassed to acquire the knowledge by themselves," Lu said.

(eastday.com April 15, 2002)

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