Dozens of AIDS patients from the central province of Henan converged on the Chinese capital on Tuesday ahead of World AIDS Day in a bid to win compensation and healthcare payouts after they were infected by tainted blood transfusions linked to blood-selling schemes in poverty-stricken rural areas.
"World AIDS Day is nearly here, and we want the authorities to sort out compensation, as well as healthcare payments and basic living allowances for those people who were infected by tainted blood transfusions," said one petitioner surnamed Liang, who arrived in Beijing early on Tuesday.
But he added: "We have had no reply so far, and no one has come to meet with us."
Liang said some petitioners were seeking to claim back the cost of healthcare since they were infected with HIV, while others needed a basic living allowance in order to get by.
"There are all kinds of demands," he said, adding that petitioners had so far managed to evade detention by police and officials from their hometowns, but that they feared a raid later on Tuesday.
"There are leaders from the county level and all of the main cities [in Henan] here, and there are even police [from Henan] here," Liang said. "They are waiting until nighttime to make their move, and I'm sure they are going to detain us."
He said the petitioners had gotten this far by leaving behind any written material related to their petitions, for fear of being searched at the railway station and refused permission to board the train.
"They wouldn't have let us enter Beijing," he said.
Document No. 26
A second AIDS patient and petitioner, Gao Yanping, said that between 80 and 90 people had made it to the capital from Henan so far.
She said the petitioners wanted local authorities to implement the provisions in the central government's "Document No. 26," which requires local governments to extend assistance to children infected with HIV and to AIDS orphans whose parents had already died of the disease.
"The provincial government said they would implement some of it, but...what they actually do to solve the problem isn't in line with what it says in the document," Gao said. "Today, we went to the civil affairs bureau to tell them this, but no one has come to speak with us yet."
Document No. 26 stipulates that local governments pay a basic living allowance of 600 yuan (about U.S. $100) per month to AIDS patients, with further subsidies for children and AIDS orphans.
Most of the petitioners contacted by RFA said they were receiving subsidies of just 200 yuan (about U.S. $30) per month, and some said they had received nothing at all.
Gao, who was herself infected with HIV via a tainted blood transfusion nearly six years ago, began petitioning for better treatment in 2008.
But she said the authorities appeared to regard them as more of a security threat than a group with a genuine grievance.
"They wrote down all the names of everyone who went and petitioned, so as to inform the provincial authorities," Gao said. "Officials came from across the province, and they have already started taking people back home."
"But a lot of us know that it won't solve anything if we're taken back home, so we aren't going to leave," she said. "We want to be here on Dec. 1 [for World AIDS Day]."
One petitioner, surnamed Chen, said her entire family now lived with HIV. "When I got [to Beijing], more than a dozen officials came rushing up to Beijing. They have just caught up with me," she said.
An employee surnamed Liu at the Beijing-based Aizhixing foundation, which helps people living with HIV/AIDS, said civil affairs ministry officials had consistently refused to hear complaints from AIDS petitioners.
"Every year, just before World AIDS Day, large numbers of people with HIV come from Henan and Hebei to complain, but they have never once gotten a result," Liu said.
"Yesterday [premier-in-waiting] Li Keqiang went to visit some AIDS patients, and held talks with some non-government groups, but yet something like this still happens today."
Li promised more care for people with HIV/AIDS, but made no mention of those infected through tainted blood transfusions, according to official media reports.
In August, hundreds of AIDS patients tore down the gates of the Henan provincial government buildings in a bid to get officials to take heed of their demands.
Some AIDS patients have tried unsuccessfully to sue the local authorities for failing to deliver promised treatment packages and adequate compensation after they were infected via tainted blood supplies in local hospitals and clinics.
Activists estimate that at least 100,000 people in Henan have been infected with HIV during the blood-selling schemes run by local governments, which bought blood donations from impoverished rural residents, but also took a cut of the proceeds.
Collectors paid villagers to give their blood, pooled it without testing for HIV or any other infections, extracted the valuable plasma and then re-injected the blood back into those who sold it. Around 40,000 of them have now died of AIDS, leaving around 60,000 still living with HIV.
Retired gynecologist and former medical professor Gao Yaojie, currently living in the United States, says the majority of new HIV infections come from a network of thousands of blood-selling and transfusion clinics which are still operating in poorer regions of the country.
Gao, 85, fled China in 2009 in order to publish work relating to the scandal of HIV-infected blood transfusions and the practice of blood-selling in poverty-stricken rural areas.
Chinese health authorities said the number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the country stood at around 780,000 at the end of 2011, a figure Gao said was closer to 10 million.
Gao warned last year that there are currently more than 10,000 blood-selling stations across China, in all regions of the country, and that only around 10 percent of HIV infections are transmitted through sex.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.