[ Investigation on Chinese Leaders for HIV Scandal Needed]
A new book by one of China’s foremost AIDS activists paints a picture of human tragedy and how it has been ignored, exploited, and exacerbated by Chinese officialdom.
The book, Uncovering the Truth Behind China’s AIDS Epidemic, was written by Dr. Gao Yaojie, the first activist to promote awareness of how HIV-AIDS blights China’s rural areas.
While the Chinese regime claims that drug addiction and sexual transmission are the primary cause for the spread of AIDS, Gao makes clear that most of the spread has actually been through tainted blood transfusions—which are often a means for local officials to line their pockets.
Unsafe blood donation and transfusion stations, run by ‘blood heads’ who bought off officials, infected millions in Henan and other provinces in the 1990s.
“In 1995, HIV was discovered in the blood samples at Henan Province’s collection centers, patronized by about five million people,” Gao said.
While the scandal was exposed internationally and efforts made to curtail the disease’s spread, Gao says the public has still been reluctant to accept AIDS relief efforts, for ignorance of the disease.
Further, the practice of blood selling, and infections, continues in China’s other provinces—sometimes worse than what happened in Henan.
UN agencies have been misled by official rhetoric about the alleged “low-prevalence” of the disease in China, Gao says. Instead, unsafe blood trading, once promoted by authorities, went underground after the story blew up.
Now people wait in lines from midnight to 6 a.m. to sell their blood, and leave as soon as day breaks. High profits, huge demand, and villagers’ lack of money have made blood selling a common phenomenon throughout China, Gao says.
Propaganda coming from the regime also clouds the issue. For example, a number of the alleged recovered AIDS patients touted by the media were not in fact AIDS sufferers to begin with. “Sixteen years have passed. It is estimated that there are 10 million AIDS patients in China, but Chinese authorities have been covering it up well,” she says. “In the photo where Wen Jiabao shakes hands with an AIDS patient, that ‘patient’ was actually an actor.”
UNAIDS, the UN AIDS program in China, says only 700,000 are infected.
Bluntening efforts to improve the lot of AIDS sufferers is also corruption. Fake medicines abound since officials can easily be bribed, and funds meant to go to AIDS relief are embezzled.
Gao, formerly a professor at the Henan University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, has visited hundreds of villages across over a dozen provinces, treating thousands of AIDS patients.
This she did for over 13 years, conducting door-to-door investigations paid for with the money she got from human rights awards. These include the United Nations Jonathan Mann award for global health and human rights, as well as the Ramon Magsaysay Award, known as Asia’s Nobel Prize. She estimates that she has spent about one million yuan (approximately US$14,972) this way.
Despite receiving no assistance from authorities, and spending her own money for travel costs, some patients she visited would still thank the Communist Party. Once when she gave medicine to a patient in 2000, the patient asked her if she was sent by Chairman Mao.
Later, it became dangerous for her to visit villages. With a 500 yuan (US$75) price on her head she constantly risked being turned in. One day, she went to a village with Hong Kong banker and Founder of the Chi Heng Foundation, Chung To, but had to immediately leave only narrowly escaping from more than 30 police and a group of militia.
She said in the end she became afraid of being nominated for awards, and was worried about being again placed under house arrest. She saw as a warning the arrest of Tan Zuoren, an environmental activist from Sichuan, and in August 2008 left China.
Gao says the Chinese regime has an undeniable responsibility for the extent of the epidemic in China, and that the international community should pay more attention.
Gao’s first book, China's AIDS Plague: 10,000 Letters was initially published in China in 2004. After initially receiving accolades the book was soon banned, and Gao harassed. A revised version was published in Hong Kong in 2009.