AIDS Violence Flares in China
August 5, 2003
In the past few months, Chinese AIDS patients have been beaten, arrested, harassed and denied life-saving medicines, say prominent AIDS and human rights activists. The recent episodes appear to defy hopes that arose during China's SARS crisis, when both political leaders and opinion makers called for changes in how the nation deals with public health issues, particularly HIV.
The aftermath of SARS had observers optimistic that China would be more forthcoming about AIDS, including the rights of HIV patients. "Many people thought things would get better after SARS," said Wan Yan Hai, a Chinese AIDS dissident, in an interview. "But it hasn't happened."
Instead, violence has flared in recent weeks, particularly in China's Henan province, where an estimated 1 million peasants became infected with HIV during the 1990s after selling their blood to government-run clinics and then being transfused with pooled, contaminated blood.
International organizations are stepping in, pleading with the Chinese government to stop the Henan violence. Last week, a coalition of leading HIV scientists and AIDS luminaries sent a letter to China's Premier Wen Jiabao, charging, "The harassment of people with HIV/AIDS and their advocates diminishes China's ability to halt its AIDS epidemic."
All of this comes against a dramatically different background of political and legal steps taken with the SARS epidemic. Despite an official cover-up of the extent of SARS, once "openness" became the watchword, many lost jobs or faced demotion for blocking dissemination of accurate information.
As Chinese scientists research the origins of the SARS virus in a well-funded campaign, HIV research occupies low prestige. A Beijing official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the HIV/AIDS workforce of China -- a nation of 1.3 billion -- is around 200 people. "I don't think our government will treat AIDS as it did SARS," said Wan. "SARS attacked the capital city and affected political stability."
Newsday (New York)
08.03.03; Laurie Garrett
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.