Chinese AIDS activists crash event, seek more help
Associated Press
2009-12-01 05:07 PM
A small group of uninvited Chinese activists took over an official World AIDS Day event Tuesday, demanding more government recognition and help.

The action at the Chinese railway's massive South Station in Beijing came as volunteers passed out AIDS leaflets to passengers as part of a campaign by China's Red Cross.

Wearing white face masks scrawled with the words "Infected blood transfusions causes AIDS," the group or 20 or so activists mounted the stage to speak through tears.

"Our fight for free treatment has continued for the past eight years with no luck," one protester, Liu Xiurong, said afterward.

Liu, from northern Harbin, said her son became infected with the HIV virus by tainted plasma several years ago. She received compensation from the Shanghai company that supplied the blood but the money wasn't enough to help her family with its medical costs.

"The money we got is not even close to the amount that we need to live. My son still needs treatment," she told Associated Press Television News.

"Now that we've put ourselves out there, there is a chance that we'll be beaten or arrested in the future," Liu said. "It's OK because we have nothing left to lose and maybe by doing this, we can inspire others who are afraid to come out united for our cause."

The HIV virus that causes AIDS gained a foothold in China largely due to unsanitary blood plasma-buying schemes and tainted transfusions in hospitals.

AIDS was the top killer among infectious diseases in China for the first time last year, a fact that may reflect improved reporting of HIV/AIDS statistics in recent years as the country slowly acknowledges the problem.

By the end of October, the number of Chinese confirmed with HIV-AIDS was 319,877, according to China's Health Ministry, up from 264,302 last year and 135,630 in 2005. Health Minister Chen Zhu said the actual level of infections is probably closer to 740,000.

On Monday, President Hu Jintao publicly pledged to mobilize the whole society in tackling the growing AIDS problem in the China.

State broadcaster China Central Television showed footage Tuesday of Hu, wearing a crimson ribbon pinned to his shirt, talking through a videophone to AIDS patients, doctors and researchers at Ditan Hospital. It was a move aimed at improving awareness and helping reduce stigma for HIV-positive people.

On Tuesday, dozens of railway workers and about 100 volunteers, some with stickers of a red ribbon or a red cross on their cheeks, helped pass out free pamphlets on disease prevention and reducing social stigma. Free condoms were also available to passers-by.

The event, co-hosted by the Railways Ministry, was aimed at promoting AIDS and HIV messages on the country's massive rail network to target the public, in particular migrant workers who crisscross the country in search of jobs.

Globally, there were about 33.4 million people with HIV last year, according to UNAIDS in a report issued last week. About 4.7 million of those were in the Asia-Pacific region.

There were about 350,000 new infections last year across the Asia-Pacific, including 21,000 children. And about 330,000 people died from complications related to AIDS.

The epidemic continues to be fueled in most countries by high-risk groups, such as intravenous drug users, sex workers and their clients. Though China is believed to have the world's largest number of injecting drug users, the main mode of HIV transmission has changed from infected needles from drug use to heterosexual sex.

Data show that 40 percent of new HIV cases diagnosed in China were infected through heterosexual contact, with homosexual sex accounting for 32 percent and the remainder related to drug abuse.


Associated Press Medical Writer Margie Mason in Hanoi contributed to this report.

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