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Commentary & Opinion
China Must "Clean Up" Henan Province's HIV/AIDS "Cover-Up" Before 2008 Olympics, Opinion Piece Says

August 26, 2004

Before China "uses the Olympic flag to polish its international image and attract global investment" when Beijing hosts the 2008 Olympic games, the government must "clean up" local officials' "cover-up [of] one of the world's worst AIDS epidemics," Sara Davis, a researcher in the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, writes in an International Herald Tribune opinion piece. Although the Chinese government officially says there are 840,000 HIV-positive people in the country, some doctors place the number at one million in Henan province alone, where villagers sold their blood at "unsafe" government blood-collection centers in the 1990s, Davis says. Officials in Henan have "long tried to cover up the epidemic" by imprisoning HIV/AIDS advocates and "expelling journalists who tried to tell the truth," according to Davis. Meanwhile, "whole villages" in the province are dying from AIDS-related causes, "leaving behind impoverished orphans" who cannot afford school fees or are "turned away by schools that fear AIDS," Davis says. AIDS advocates in the region have "tried to fill the gap" through programs designed to assist orphans; however, the provincial government "resent[s]" the advocates for "attracting international attention" to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the "government's failure to address it," according to Davis. "Instead of encouraging" HIV/AIDS programs, Henan officials employ a "state-sanctioned harassment of grassroots AIDS outreach programs" in the region, Davis says. Although officials in Beijing have taken "positive steps" toward addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic, local officials "remain a serious obstacle to change" because the "same officials who profited from the sale of blood and covered up the AIDS epidemic are now administering domestic and international aid funds," Davis says. She concludes that the Chinese government should require Henan officials to support HIV/AIDS programs and that the international community "must demand that Beijing clean up the Henan government before the 2008 Olympics. That would truly give everyone something to cheer about" (Davis, International Herald Tribune, 8/25).

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