World AIDS Day – AIDS in China

Today is World AIDS Day. World AIDS Day “is held on 1 December each year and is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died.” While many developed countries are seeing infection rates drop and have increased their awareness and support for AIDS victim, many developing countries are seeing the numbers rise, along with fear and scorn for those affected by the disease.

In China, cases of HIV/AIDS are increasing, though it is unclear whether or not this is from an increased infection rate or from more cases being diagnosed. It is most likely a combination of the two. While China has been making strides in informing people about HIV/AIDS, there has been a stark increase in the number of cases among gay communities. In an age where homosexuality is becoming more accepted and the Internet allows people who were previously isolated to connect, homosexuality and STD transmissions through homosexual encounters are on the rise. Even though more people are able to connect to homosexual communities, most homosexuals are still very much in the closet, so it can be difficult for them to seek and receive medical care.

This is something that, in the past, the Chinese government would have simply ignored or hidden. In the mid-1990s, hundreds of thousands of rural people were infected with HIV/AIDS by government-run blood donation stations that reused materials. The government tried to hide what had happened, but then tried to take credit for stepping in and helping stop the epidemic that they had caused.

After the World Health Organization announced its findings that nearly half a million people in China have been diagnosed with AIDS (undiagnosed numbers are still much higher) and that the most at-risk group is homosexual men, the government is already reaching out to try and increase awareness to fight this frightening trend.

Premier Li Keqiang visited AIDS patients over the weekend and vowed to “ensure that more work is done for the prevention and treatment of AIDS, adding that China is willing to cooperate with other countries to combat HIV.” The country has a long way to go, though, since many people, even people who should know better, are still woefully uneducated about HIV/AIDS and many antiquated superstitions about victims persist.

When I lived in Changsha and was volunteering at the Butterfly House, I had the pleasure of meeting a tiny, HIV positive baby within days of her birth when she was abandoned by her mother. The baby was malnourished and suffered from a yeast infection because hospital nurses (people who should be the most educated about AIDS) had been too afraid to touch her. I was very proud of my goddaughter Zoe, who thought nothing of such silly notions and cuddled the little girl like any healthy baby. I don’t know exactly what happened to that little baby, but I do know there was a waiting list of mommies and daddies who couldn’t wait for the chance to give her, and other babies like her, a safe and loving home.