The NGO leader: Support our work

Updated: 2011-11-25 07:59

By He Na (China Daily)

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Thomas Cai was given the United Nations' high-profile Red Ribbon Award in 2006, and Premier Wen Jiabao received him in 2009 to recognize Cai's contributions to China's HIV/AIDS campaign.

But he says he's just an ordinary AIDS patient who is struggling to obtain more care, medicine and respect for more people like him.

Cai founded AIDS Care China in Guangzhou in 2001 as a shelter service for HIV/AIDS patients. Since then, the community-based program has become the largest anti-HIV/AIDS civil society in the country.

It has counseling and treatment education centers in Guangdong, Yunnan and Hubei provinces and Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. It has provided free treatment to more than 20,000 people living with HIV/AIDS and has helped more than 400 children of infected parents pursue education.

Cai, who had studied and worked in foreign countries for many years, had a prosperous future in business when he was diagnosed with AIDS in 2000.

"I thought of suicide at first, but luckily I got treatment in time ... Not all the people were that lucky. I watched some poor patients die of despair.

"Their tragedies inspired me to establish AIDS Care China."

Cai is full of energy, although he said he gets only three to six hours' sleep a night because of his busy work schedule. If his group is to help more people, he said, the government must provide more support.

"In an ideal state, the government is the blueprint designer and NGOs are specialized construction teams." The designer should be fully trusting and empower the teams to do their jobs better, he said.

In Cai's mind, the guiding principles for AIDS treatment laid down by the central government are correct and clear-cut, but they haven't been put into practice fully at local levels.

"I clearly remember the words of Chen Zhu, minister of health. He told me (in July) that the task of anti-AIDS programs must be to seize the day, seize the hour" - use every minute on their urgent task. "But my experience with many lower level officials tell me that they do not think so," Cai said.

"I do hope the central government will establish an improved supervision mechanism to guarantee that anti-AIDS funds are used only for that purpose, and meanwhile will offer some aid to grassroots NGOs," he said. "We want to help China get better."