Students take up AIDS challenge
By Bai Xu (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-03-18 07:23
At first, it was merely an online game to 14-year old Yang Chengcheng - a game started by clicking a floating red ribbon on the computer screen, then proceeding to read and answer questions.
But this game yielded more than fun; Yang, an eighth-grader in Yunnan province, ended up with a store of important knowledge about AIDS, from basic facts to prevention and treatment information to anti-discrimination guidelines. In fact, this was a national contest - and Yang also won an mp3 player.
Yang had learned about the challenge in her computer class, when the teacher displayed the website www.health.cbern.gov.cn. Having no computer at home, she had gone to a cousin's home and spent a whole afternoon struggling with the 100 questions, organized in nine sections and proceeding in five stages from easiest to hardest.
What had been a remote-seeming problem suddenly was meaningful. "I am beginning to realize that AIDS is not far from us at all and we should learn to protect ourselves," Yang said afterwards.
Yang knew there was some connection between drugs and HIV infection, for instance, "but I didn't know the details," she said. Through her research to answer a question, she discovered that needle-sharing among drug addicts was a channel of transmission.
The benefits went beyond Yang herself - she shared her knowledge with her parents as well as her cousin.
Launched by the Ministry of Education and sponsored by the China AIDS Roadmap Tactical Support Project, the contest ran for three months last year, yet its effect continue - the site remains up and nearly 19 million people have logged on.
In a survey of participants, 95 percent found the test enhanced their understanding and concern for the HIV-infected and AIDS patients; the same proportion felt better equipped to protect themselves against the disease; and more than 83 percent thought the contest should take place regularly.
Wang Shaolin, vice-principal of the school Yang Chengcheng attends - No 4 Middle School in Yuxi, central Yunnan, was appreciative of the additional education the contest provided. "AIDS is spreading rapidly," she said. "Resent and fear it or not, it is a fact."
A report released by the United Nations Population Fund in 2006 showed that worldwide, 6,000 people aged 15 to 24 get infected with HIV each day; meanwhile, only one out of five young people have access to AIDS-related information.
In China, where more than 220,000 HIV infected cases were reported by the end of September 2007, with 55,000 having developed into AIDS, knowledge of the disease is also insufficient.
Yunnan, which borders the notorious Golden Triangle, with the highest rates of HIV cases in China, is ahead of other regions in introducing AIDS information into the curriculum and testing students on their knowledge of the disease.
Xu Wenqing, a project officer with the United Nations Children's Fund who has been working on AIDS prevention for 16 years, pointed out two common problems in AIDS education efforts. "First, the education is not practical," she said; second, teachers are still reluctant to mention words like "sex" or "condom", which are essential to instruction about safe behaviors. "AIDS education for young people is long-term important work," Xu said.
(China Daily 03/18/2008 page8)