Class spreads knowledge to fight HIV
In a small town of Yunnan Province, a group of drug users were attentively listening to a class teaching them how to prevent themselves from contracting HIV/AIDS.
The class was offered by the local Centre of Disease Control (CDC) to intravenous drug users (IDUs) both in Mandarin and in languages of several ethnic minorities inhabiting Jiele, a small township in this province.
Jiele Township is located near the notorious "Golden Triangle" international drug trafficking area. In the area, local residents can easily purchase drugs at low cost from Myanmar and other bordering countries.
The environment makes it very easy for addicts to find their fix. For an average addict, 30 yuan (US$3.6) is enough to cover daily consumption, says a class trainee.
"Our aim for the time being is not to have them quit the drug, but to prevent them from contracting HIV/AIDS," says Duan Yijuan, a doctor at the CDC branch.
She says that in the past, the local government was not so keen on providing such training for fear it might encourage people to use drugs.
"But now, we have full support from the provincial government," she says.
"The government even supports our programmes of clean needle exchange and methadone replacement therapy," says Wang Yunsheng, deputy director of the HIV/AIDS prevention office of the province's health bureau.
The local governments' changing conception actually reflects a major turnabout in the central government's attitude towards the control and prevention of the infectious disease. That is to confront the reality more positively and openly.
The turning point came in December 2003, when Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice-Premier Wu Yi shook hands with AIDS patients in a Beijing hospital, signaling that the central government has placed combating the disease at the top of the agenda.
Meanwhile, the central government's gesture to eliminate fear and discrimination against HIV-infected people has had a great impact on the public's thoughts about HIV/AIDS.
Just from May to August this year, Beijing alone witnessed a training workshop for patients of HIV/AIDS on their rights to information and treatment, and a camp for children orphaned by AIDS, though, at first, no hotel or inn would allow the children to stay within its rooms. An enlightened resort hotel finally came forward.
"Today, what the government is doing is probably more than 500 per cent what it was doing a year ago," says epidemiologist Ray Yip, director for the Global AIDS Programme of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in China.
He says the outbreak of fatal SARS in spring 2003, sounded an alarm that any infectious disease should be treated with the utmost attention.
In China, there are about 500,000 registered intravenous drug users, who constitute 60 per cent of the estimated 840,000 people infected with HIV throughout the country, where the first AIDS cases were detected in 1985.
In Yunnan Province alone, where the largest number of HIV-infected people have been reported, the reported HIV-infected cases number about 15,000, while experts estimate 75,000 people have been infected. Another high-risk group is sex workers.