It's time for China to step up AIDS fight

By David Friesen
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, December 2, 2010
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I was truly glad to see Premier Wen Jiabao really show his support for the fight against HIV and AIDS on World AIDS Day this year. Pictures like that of Wen shaking the hand of an AIDS patient and hugging orphans whose parents have died of AIDS are important steps in breaking down desperately out-dated social stigmas regarding this terrible disease. Just like Princess Diana's best work was done through her commitment to showing HIV and AIDS sufferers as normal people that just happen to be afflicted with this problem, so Wen can show many people that we need to shift from isolating and shunning HIV sufferers and helping to tackle the problem as a global society.

This comes on the back of the continually shocking and heart-breaking stories of misery and social isolation suffered by those with HIV and AIDS. One story that I found so upsetting it moved me to tears recently was the tragedy of A Long. This six-year-old boy in a remote village in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region had watched both his parents die of AIDS, and because he was also an HIV carrier had been shunned even by his own relatives. He was forced to live alone with only a dog for company, having to fend for himself. The government cannot do much to protect him, and because of the huge lack of education about HIV and AIDS he is seen as a potentially deadly companion to have around. Even doctors in the village would not treat him for fear they would catch something.

It is this sort of discrimination and ignorance that needs to be dealt with if HIV and AIDS is truly going to be brought under control. Such stigmas still exist in misguided individuals in the West who have access to education and information. In remote areas of rural China, it is no wonder that people believe in superstitions and medical misinformation.

This needs to start with the doctors and media who must report correctly on the causes and potential spread of HIV and AIDS. They need to know that AIDS cannot be spread through contact, a kiss, from toilet seats, or from the air. They also need to know that AIDS is not a disease purely caused by drug addicts, prostitution and homosexual sex. All people can be HIV sufferers, and in fact many new cases around the world are due to poor medical safety and poor use of contraception in heterosexual intercourse.

If doctors and the media can spread this message around even the most remote areas, then attitudes may begin to change. Without it, the spread of HIV and AIDS through China could be rapid and devastating.

Also, all the problems of treating patients and improving their lives stems from a lack of education and from social stigma towards the disease. Fearful prostitutes with AIDS go into hiding for fear of what might happen to them. This means they do not receive the medication they need, and also are more likely to pass their disease onto others.

There is no doubting that China is committing money towards the fight against HIV and AIDS, with more treatment centres and drugs available than ever before. However, perhaps in this fight against the disease it needs to be shown that this is not a fight against the carriers of the illness as well. The fight to change attitudes need to spread further than merely education about the illness, but also to the social groups most at risk of contracting AIDS. Better treatment for drug addicts is needed and more openness regarding homosexuality is required in order to stop these groups falling prey to an AIDS epidemic.

It is in the smallest communities and villages where HIV and AIDS need to be combatted through education and adequate treatment. Wen's gesture on World AIDS Day could be the beginning of a new commitment to making sure that HIV does not spread, and that those with the disease are treating with the dignity and support they deserve as fellow human beings.

The author is a freelancer from London and now live in Beijing.

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