"Belatedly, China Confronts AIDS"
Los Angeles Times (12.20.08)::Barbara Demick
The Chinese government's long-standing denial of the
country's HIV/AIDS epidemic has given way to a publicity blitz
aimed at increasing awareness of the virus and minimizing the
stigma associated with it. China has roughly 700,000 HIV/AIDS
The extent of ignorance surrounding the disease is
staggering. A recent survey of 6,000 Chinese students, migrant
workers, and blue- and white-collar workers found 48 percent
thought the virus could be transmitted by mosquitoes.
To commemorate World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, a massive red AIDS
ribbon was hung from the National Stadium, known as the Bird's
Nest during the Summer Olympics. President Hu Jintao and Premier
Wen Jiabao were photographed with their arms around HIV-positive
people. And numerous editorials in state media addressed
HIV/AIDS stigma. "Time to recognize that AIDS is a disease, not
a shame," the official New China News Agency urged.
However, "In China, the problem is not
so much with the central government or the provincial
government" when it comes to HIV/AIDS, said Li Dan, a
Beijing-based expert. "At the local level, there are officials
who treat anybody involved with AIDS as a criminal or a
In the western part of China,
especially Yunnan province bordering Myanmar, and in the
Xinjiang region, HIV/AIDS is spreading fast among injecting drug
users. Ju He, an activist from Beijing, and others are working
to stem infections by distributing clean needles to IDUs. But
local police continue to thwart their prevention efforts,
stationing themselves across the street from the exchanges and
arresting anyone who shows up.
"It is very difficult to stop AIDS
among drug users," said Ju. "The local governments don't want us
working with this population because they consider them