Bias against HIV-infected people
Updated: 2006-03-01 13:03
CHENGDU -- Tears rolled out of the corner of his eyes, when Li Bencai
recalled what happened 10 years ago after his folk villagers learned that he was
tested HIV positive.
"The disease alienated my friends. Then
the loneliness was more fearful than death," Li said.
Li Bencai reads
scripts for a play on HIV/AIDS in this file
AIDS has for years been a specter in China. It was seen as a disease stemming
from "immoral conduct," since people knew little about how the virus spread.
Li Bencai got infected when he sold blood at an illegal blood-collection
center outside his hometown in 1995. He returned home the next year after being
His hometown, a beautiful place named Gongmin in southwest Sichuan Province,
has become known to the outside world not for its scenery but for the number of
its people infected with HIV/AIDS, as 24 patients there have died of the disease
"At that time, we thought AIDS was very dreadful and easy to communicate,"
Yang Xinhua, a middle-aged woman running a teahouse at the center of Gongmin,
told Xinhua, recalling how the town was in a panic.
Li Bencai said that a decade ago, his little daughter even failed to have any
friend in her kindergarten.
Li, 10 years after the infection, is taking anti-virus pills to enhance his
immunity. He told Xinhua that he is eager to survive as ever before.
In 2002, the Chinese Government designated Gongmin as a pilot area for AIDS
care supporting, which was part of the China-UK HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care
The move aimed to create a discrimination-free environment for AIDS patients
and HIV-infected people, help them back to normal life, and eventually realize
the mutual solicitude between the HIV-infected and healthy people.
According to Zheng Shifan, who is in charge of the project at the provincial
public health department, the project has not only employed radio, TV and other
media, but also invited local government officials and medical doctors to make
publicity for AIDS prevention.
At villages, officials and medical doctors ate in public steamed stuffed buns
halved by HIV-infected people, thus convincing the villagers that normal contact
with the infected people carries no risk of being infected.
Li Bencai, the 37-year-old owner of a teahouse and a timber mill, said, "If
HIV/AIDS infected people remained the target of discrimination, no one would
dare to come to my teahouse."
On Tuesday afternoon, guests sat at two tables in Li's teahouse. Peng Gang,
aged 27, and three of his friends played mah-jong there.
Peng said, "We won't get infected as long as we act correctly. As the TV
program told us, AIDS can only be transmitted in three channels. "
"A brochure for AIDS publicity has been distributed in our town. It is easy
to understand, "said one of his friend surnamed Zhang.
A new law, Regulations on AIDS Prevention and Control, took effect as of
Wednesday. This will help dispel discrimination against HIV/AIDS infected people
in China, Zheng believed.
The rules say no work unit or individual is allowed to discriminate
HIV-infected people, AIDS patients or their family members, and these people are
protected by law concerning marriage, employment, medical care and schooling.
Prof. Li Yingsheng, a sociologist with the Beijing-based Renmin University of
China, attributed the bias against HIV/AIDS infected people to the traditional
ethical concepts, mindset over sex and lack of knowledge of health care and
hygiene across the country.
"Though the regulations became effective, the law enforcement will be a
long-term process. It is hard to change people's mentality,"Li Yingsheng said.
But change has somehow happened.
On Li Bencai's business card, both the titles of timber mill owner and AIDS
publicist were printed. He even allowed Xinhua to use his real name in this and
other news stories, which was unimaginable before.
According to the Ministry of Health, there are approximately 650,000
HIV-infected people in China, including about 75,000 AIDS patients.