AIDS activists in China's central province of Henan are calling on thousands of people infected with HIV via tainted blood transfusions to file a class action lawsuit demanding compensation from the authorities.
Sun Ya, an AIDS activist whose 12-year-old son is infected with HIV, said Wednesday he estimated there were more than 100,000 people in his home province of Henan alone who had been similarly affected by tainted blood.
"I am hoping that we can force the authorities to take the case by approaching it as a class action suit," Sun said. "A decision in such a case would give us a basis with which to negotiate compensation much more easily with the government."
"If we each file separate complaints through different departments, a lot of cases will get rejected," Sun said. "And no one takes any notice of you if you petition at government departments."
Sun's initiative, which has already attracted the support of more than 100 HIV-infected people, comes after several years of petitioning central government authorities in Beijing, to no avail.
"We have all got the same aim, which is win greater compensation for ourselves ... for example, we want the authorities to provide better quality medications and treatment methods, as well as compensation," he said.
"So we are taking the initiative to try to achieve this."
Sun said seven lawyers had already offered to represent the group on a pro bono basis, and that some of the group was using China's popular microblogging services to recruit more people to join the lawsuit.
"If we tried to have a meeting, the police would come along and break it up," he said. "So we are using the microblogs to discuss things first."
But he added, "They have been regarded as sensitive posts, and deleted."
One of the first to join the attempted class action suit is a Henan resident surnamed Gao, whose husband was infected with HIV several years ago via a blood transfusion clinic and passed the virus unknowingly to her.
Gao, whose husband died of AIDS five years ago, said she had been petitioning with her son for years for compensation, but with no response from officials.
"I took it to court, but the judge wanted me to produce more than 10 years' worth of receipts from the transfusion clinic, and they are long gone," she said.
"We haven't had any compensation, to this day," Gao said. "The transfusion clinics are run by the local government ... and they all try to evade responsibility."
Living with HIV/AIDS
Sun estimates that at least 100,000 people in Henan alone are believed to 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.
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, has hit out at official Chinese AIDS statistics as "rubbish," saying the majority of infections come from a network of thousands of blood-selling and transfusion clinics across 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 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.
She said she had visited Hunan, Hubei, Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangdong, Guangxi, and Sichuan provinces before she left China, as part of her research into the blood-selling industry.
Known as the “Number One AIDS activist in China,” Gao began her work to combat the epidemic in 1996 when she was already 69.
In 2001, Gao was awarded the Jonathan Mann Award for Health and Human Rights, and in 2003 she was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service in Manila, Philippines.
Gao fled Henan in 2009 after police cut off her telephone service, citing fears she would be harassed, physically harmed, or otherwise prevented from continuing her work.
Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.