An HIV carrier needs an operation, but the special hospital for HIV/AIDS patients does not have the right equipment. Would you readily operate on him if he comes to you for help?
Medical students at the Shanghai-based Fudan University are being asked this question and others in a new elective course, known as "a study on AIDS and public health from the social science perspective."
"The question is not uncalled-for, as many HIV/AIDS patients have been denied treatment at our medical facilities," said Gao Yanning, an associate professor with Fudan University's School of Public Health. "Some patients say they'd rather die than go to a hospital."
While some doctors fear they themselves might be infected, many others held that these patients should be held responsible for their own "misconduct" and didn't deserve to be treated at hospitals.
"These doctors have apparently forgotten their own obligations," said Gao Wednesday, World AIDS Day.
Gao said doctors' prejudice against HIV/AIDS patients is the result of an unbalanced curriculum at China's medical schools, which underscores science to the neglect of personal care.
Which was why his school had decided to include the new inter-disciplinary course in their curriculum.
The course, however, received a cold welcome from the medical students to start with. "Not a single student selected the course in the fall semester of 2001 when it was first opened," noted Gao. "I felt really sad at the time, for myself and for the students' biased attitude toward AIDS. It's by no means the most horrible epidemic from the scientific perspective, but even future doctors are scared of it."
Medicine alone is not enough to dispel such fears, said Gao.
In the spring semester of 2002, eight students attended the course. The average number of registered students in the past two years increased slightly to a dozen, but more off-campus auditors are coming.
The course drew a record 200 listeners this year, when Prof. Gao Yaojie, a veteran woman doctor dedicated to AIDS prevention and treatment, gave a lecture urging love and care for kids who had lost their parents to AIDS.
The school has also invited several other renowned AIDS fighters to give speeches this year, including Barry-Martin prize winner Prof. Gui Xi'en, chief expert at China's National Center for AIDS Prevention and Control Shao Yiming and founder of a non-governmental organization caring for AIDS patients, an HIV carrier who gave his name as Thomas.
"Many lectures are given virtually for free," said Gao, "as thelecturers think it's their job to do it."
The course aims to remind the future doctors to care for and help HIV/AIDS patients from the medical, psychological and humanistic perspectives, rather than to discriminate them or judge their past, he said.
A student said she felt she has become more tolerant after she took the course.
"A patient is a patient, whatever disease he has contracted," said Zhang Jie, a second-year graduate student.
In addition to the lectures, students are also encouraged to carry out surveys and interviews to obtain first-hand information about HIV/AIDS in China..
Last year, Gao and his colleagues arranged survey tours for the students to have face-to-face talks with HIV-infected and high-risk people including sex workers and gay men.
"It was a novel experience for medical students who were traditionally more familiar with lab facilities than with human beings," said Gao.
Gao himself has paid 12 visits to areas with high AIDS rates in the central Henan Province and southern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region during the past three years, sometimes accompanied by his assistants.
One of his undergraduate students, Ling Feng, recently won first prize at the university with a thesis based on his interdisciplinary research carried out in the AIDS-stricken villages in Henan and Guangxi, in which Ling called for affection, care, material aid and proper schooling for AIDS orphans.
"It's good news the Ministry of Education has demanded nationwide secondary schools and colleges to include basics about AIDS in their curricula," said Gao. "I hope textbooks will also spell out citizens' duty to care for AIDS patients and treat them as equals."
(Xinhua News Agency December 2, 2004)