Gao Yaojie: A Doctor with Conscience

October 19, 2007 12:00 am Last Updated: October 19, 2007 12:00 am

It would be naïve to think that all grandmothers are simply a social burden. Gao Yaojie, for one, an 80-year-old retired gynecologist in Henan Province, has been a thorn in the side of the Chinese communist government for the past 10 years.

In 1996, she discovered that the spread of AIDS in Henan was due to governmental corruption and deliberate oversight. Since then she has traveled far and wide throughout the nation to raise awareness about the deadly disease.

Suppressed by the authorities, she has spent over a million yuan (US$125,000) from her own savings to print and distribute AIDS-awareness flyers, save patients and orphans, and—most courageously—expose the truth of the widespread AIDS epidemic that has resulted from blood-selling campaigns throughout the nation.

In 2001, Dr. Gao was awarded the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights by the Global Health Council. In 2002, she was named in Time Asia's 25 Greatest Living Asian Heroes, and in 2003 she was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service.

House Arrest

In both 2001 and 2003, she was refused a passport to travel overseas to receive her awards, because local government officials felt that it would greatly embarrass them and adversely affect their prospects for promotion.

In 2007, after years of house arrest, she was again detained at home by a dozen police officers on February 2 to prevent her from traveling to the United States to receive an honor bestowed upon her by the Vital Voices Global Partnership, a well-known nonprofit organization.

On February 13, the eleventh day of her house arrest, she was told to write a letter to authorize someone else to receive the award for her. She said: “I have to write the letter. It looks like it is impossible for me to travel overseas to receive the award. I have no other choice. My son and daughter are both in their 50s already, and they told me that they've had all sorts of pressure from the authorities. My daughter has been crying nonstop, and my son told me that if I went overseas, they would all lose their jobs. He knelt in front of me for two days.

“However, I said I cannot lie. I cannot deceive the entire world. I am a doctor, and I cannot lie.”

Finally, on February 16, due to the efforts of international organizations, NGOs, and foreign media, the Chinese regime finally gave way. When asked why the Chinese communist government did not want her to travel to the United States to receive awards, she answered, “They're afraid that I will expose the fact that (illegal) blood selling is the main reason for the AIDS epidemic in China.”

The pressure from the Chinese authorities is obvious. At the end of the awards ceremony held in Washington D.C., on March 14, 2007, she was asked how she felt. “I feel so unsettled. I do not know what my fate will be when I return to China.” As of that date, she had not been able to reach her family in China—the telephone lines had been blocked.

The Official Version: AIDS Spread Mostly Due to Sexual Transmission

For years, the official word from the Chinese regime has been that the AIDS epidemic in China is due to “sexual transmission” or “drug abuse.” According to Dr. Gao, however, “The farmers in China now are so poor that they don't even have money to eat. How could they have money to pay for prostitutes? Modern Chinese society is extremely polarized—the poor are on the brink of death, while the rich are suffocated by their wealth. I am very against such propaganda. The truth is, the majority of AIDS victims contracted the virus through blood donations or transfusions.”

In the early 1990s, blood-selling stations mushroomed throughout China, especially in rural, undeveloped country areas. Many poor farmers, unable to survive on their meager incomes, participated widely in selling their blood at these stations. However, in trying to reduce costs and increase revenues, the government health officials neglected health and safety measures. Blood sellers were not tested for health problems, nor was blood tested before mixing. Since then, a myriad of blood products has been manufactured, and the HIV virus has spread widely among both blood sellers and patients who received blood transfusions.

Dr. Gao continues: “There are two things that I think people should be clear about. One is about condoms. In the past few years, condoms have been propagandized in the media as the miracle tool against AIDS. Every year, whenever people talk about AIDS, there's nothing else besides condom advertisements. On December 1, 2003, a condom manufacturing company called me and asked how many condoms I needed. I replied very simply, 'I cannot sell out my soul! Money is worthless compared to human life! I have been to a dozen counties, towns, and villages and I've seen thousands of AIDS victims. All of them contracted the disease from selling their blood at blood stations!'

“I hate it when the authorities always links prostitution and drug abuse with AIDS. These so-called 'experts,' in my view, are simply mouthpieces for the regime government, because when they link AIDS with these behaviors, it gives people the impression that people contract it as a result of their own dissolute behavior and is therefore unrelated to the government. On December 18, 2003, Deputy Prime Minister Wu Yi talked to me and said that a professor had told him that most of the AIDS victims had contracted it as a result of their own sexual behavior, and I told him, quite simply, that this professor was lying.”

When asked about a future remedy, Dr. Gao replied, “There are still many (underground) blood-selling stations throughout the nation, and there are many sellers who still frequent them in order to have an income. At many of these stations, the sellers sell their blood once every two days—and the AIDS infection rate is almost 100 percent.”

According to Chinese official figures, the projected number of HIV-positive citizens in the nation will be approximately 10 million by 2010. Dr. Gao believes the number will be much, much more if it is not controlled.

Can Sun and Xiao Tian are correspondents for Chinascope.