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More Power for Anti-AIDS Campaigners
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The Chinese Government will take a more positive attitude and more aggressive actions to support the anti-HIV activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), said Chen Xiaohong, vice minister of the Ministry of Health.

In an interview with China Daily, Chen said "the Chinese Government has fully realized the active and important role of NGOs in HIV/AIDS prevention and control in the past years."

He vowed that in the future, the Chinese Government will strengthen its efforts to guide NGOs and establish better working and collaborative mechanisms, encouraging them to contribute more to the country's HIV/AIDS control and prevention, which now is mainly done by governments at different levels.

The central government has worked hard to contain the spread of the virus and treat HIV/AIDS sufferers over the past 10 years. In 2003, it started to provide free antiviral drugs to all poverty-stricken patients, free education for children of AIDS-affected families and free HIV testing for all residents.

Additionally, the government and centres for disease control and prevention (CDC) at different levels have sponsored a number of intervention works, such as public education, voluntary HIV testing and condom distribution in entertainment places, to ensure the virus does not spread from so-called high-risk groups, including drug users and prostitutes, to the general public.

However, in the war against AIDS, governments are not able to do everything. Vice Premier Wu Yi said recently that all aspects of society, including various domestic and overseas communities, NGOs, enterprises, and volunteers, must be welcomed to join the effort.

Commercial sex and drug trading are illegal in China. Thus, it is quite difficult for officials and CDC experts to communicate with people who constitute a large part of the high-risk groups.

For homosexual persons, who are comparatively isolated from the outside world, the difficulty is even bigger.

But NGOs can do the work much more easily.

"We have the same feeling with them, and what we do could be accepted by them easily," said Meng Lin, a gay man with HIV.

Meng is the head of "ARK of Love," a Beijing-based informational support network for people suffering from HIV/AIDS.

"In fact, strictly speaking, our organization cannot be called a real NGO because we have not registered at any relative authoritative department according to China's laws and regulations. We can only be called a grass-roots organization," Meng said.

However, currently the Chinese Government takes a very tolerant and generous attitude towards grass-roots organizations established by HIV-positive volunteers, he said, so his organization had been able to do a lot of work in the past year to protect the rights of HIV/AIDS sufferers.

In some parts of China, such as Shenyang, the capital city of Northeast China's Liaoning Province, Meng's organization has established several groups of HIV/AIDS volunteers to negotiate with or push local governments to improve the living status of people who are HIV positive.

He said there are dozens of grass-roots organizations like "ARK of Love" in China now.

Meanwhile, nearly 50 national NGOs, such as the All-China Women's Federation and China Family Planning Association, are taking an active part in the country's war against the deadly virus.

The regulation on HIV/AIDS control and prevention issued by the State Council early this year has also made it clear that the State supports NGOs and individuals, encouraging them to intervene among high-risk groups and provide care and relief for AIDS patients and their relatives.

NGOs and HIV/AIDS volunteers can set up a "bridge" between the patients and society. They can give more care and understanding to sufferers who need more than medical treatment, said Xu Lianzhi, a doctor of HIV/AIDS treatment from You'an Hospital of Beijing.

Since 2002, the central government has allocated at least 20 million yuan (US$2.5 million) to fuel 231 projects or programmes carried out by NGOs and various communities in 150 counties of 30 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities.

At the same time, the Chinese Government also used money committed by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to support NGOs' activities.

Since 2004, a total of 72 NGOs had received 3.75 million yuan (US$450,000) from the Fund's third-round finance injection for uses such as public education among migrant populations, young persons and prostitutes.

The Fund's fifth-round injection, which was kicked off in July, is projected to give US$29 million to China for tackling the disease over the coming five years. Of this, 43 percent will be used to support NGOs' activities, officials said.

Governments and NGOs should make joint efforts in HIV/AIDS control just like the two wings of a bird, said Zhang Weiqing, director of the National Population and Family Planning Commission.

In many aspects, he added, NGOs can even do better than the government.

According to official statistics released by the United Nations and the Ministry of Health, 650,000 Chinese now suffer from HIV/AIDS. Nearly half of all the HIV-positive people reported in 2005 were infected through unsafe sexual contact.

(China Daily October 4, 2006)

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