Chinese President Hu Jintao on Friday visited doctors and communities in Beijing, talking and shaking hands with AIDS patients and inspiring people "not to be daunted by HIV".
Chinese President Hu Jintao (L) shakes hands with an HIV patient in a hospital in eastern Beijing Friday morning. Hu asks people "not to be daunted by HIV". [Xinhua]
In an apparent gesture to show the central government's resolution to tackle the growing AIDS problem in the country, Hu visited AIDS control medical staff in a local center for disease control and prevention in Chaoyang District of Beijing on a chilly Friday morning.
Looking through medical facilities and drugs used for AIDS prevention and control, Hu carefully inquired about treatment methods and the prevalent situation of the disease.
In a blood test room and workshop of intervention for AIDS prevention for high-risk groups, the president listened carefully to the introduction of their prevention and control programs and preliminary achievements.
Television footage carried by China Central Television showed a camera lens zooming in on Hu's hands holding that of a female HIV carrier. The president made similar handshakes three years ago.
The woman, who was diagnosed with HIV in 2004, came to the voluntary consulting testing (VCT) clinic of the center on Friday morning to make inquiries about AIDS.
She told Hu that she had "no obvious physical discomfort" at present as the disease was in the incubation period, and the disease control and prevention center made regular phone calls to remind her to come for check-ups.
"Thanks to the timely and effective help of doctors when I was in utmost despair, they dragged me out of agony and the disease has been contained," said the woman who gave Hu a book written by herself as a gift.
According to the woman, the book, describing her experience before and after the infection, "served as a warning to make more people keep their distance from the disease, and showed her gratitude toward society".
Turning the pages, Hu said:"I'm so happy that you always have a positive outlook on life, bravely fight against the disease and actively throw yourself into disease prevention and control."
"Such a spirit deserves respect and admiration," he said.
The president, wearing a crimson ribbon pinned onto his black jacket, encouraged the woman to take care of her health and remain confident in her fight against the disease.
By the end of October 2007, a total of 223,501 people had been officially reported to have contracted HIV, including 62,838 AIDS patients, according to an appraisal report by the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS.
Though the rate of AIDS growth has slowed down, the government has admitted the situation remains grave in the country with a population of 1.3 billion. Official reports say there are estimated to be as many as 700,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in China.
Another woman whose husband has contracted HIV showed Hu a photo of her baby boy. "We've just had a baby. You can see it from the picture," said the woman.
The president was relieved when the woman said both she and the baby was "safe". Hu said, "Your life's not easy but your family are very happy."
He told family members of HIV carriers to "bravely face difficulties".
President Hu encouraged doctors and nurses to study treatment techniques to contribute more to the country's AIDS control and prevention, which was "closely linked with the health and life of the masses and the future of the nation".
"Doctors are the main force in combating HIV/AIDS and it also needs concerted efforts from the whole of society," the president told medical staff, noting the task was still "arduous".
Hu stressed the policy of "four frees, one care", which was adopted in 2003 and pledged free HIV testing, free counseling and free anti-retroviral treatment for infected people in underdeveloped areas and free treatment for all pregnant women, as well as care for children orphaned by AIDS, should "effectively cover" people in need.
In a nearby community which is a pilot of the city's first AIDS prevention and control program, Hu met AIDS experts and volunteers, all having red ribbons pinned on their clothes, on Friday morning at a local campaign to educate people to prevent AIDS.
Hu was moved by enthusiastic volunteers, including a group of student volunteers who he said had "selflessly" devoted themselves to the cause.
"HIV carriers could be spiritually motivated through your significant work," he said, adding he hoped more "kindhearted" people would join them to create "a sound social environment" for AIDS control.
Representatives of international organizations, such as Khalid Malik, UN Resident Coordinator, and Subinay Nandy, UNDP China Country Director, also joined local people at the event.
The president gave his heartfelt welcome to them and extended gratitude to "their help on China's AIDS prevention and control".
"AIDS prevention and control is an international topic. The Chinese government has paid special attention to the issue, always provided the greatest care to HIV carriers and patients and has earnestly fulfilled promises to curb the spread of the illness," said Hu.
Before chanting the "Song of Red Ribbon" with local residents, Hu pledged to enhance cooperation and exchanges with international communities, saying, "The mankind will definitely conquer AIDS."
But Bernhard Schwartlander, UNAIDS Country Coordinator, later told reporters that China needs to take the response to HIV to provincial, county and community levels and "translate policies into action".
Fighting HIV concerns "leadership" which was in line with the theme of this year's World AIDS Day that calls for "leadership", Schwartlander said.
Subinay Nandy said there were still some "inconsistencies" in China between regulations and "divergences", between national and provincial laws, and between laws and its application, "especially at local and community level".
But Nandy was "proud of China's efforts" made in the field of policy-making and legislation to prevent AIDS discrimination, such as the regulation on AIDS prevention and treatment, promulgated by the State council last year, and the national action plan (2006-2010) for AIDS containment, prevention and care.
The Ministry of Finance announced Friday that 860 million yuan (US$114 million) would be allocated from the central budget for AIDS prevention and control.
Statistics show Chinese government has allocated 3.81 billion yuan (US$508 million) since 2003 to combat AIDS.