AIDS Doctor Blew the Whistle on HIV-Tainted Blood Banks


Gao Yaojie visits RFA headquarters, March 2007. Photo: RFA

Retired gynecologist Gao Yaojie has struggled to promote awareness of HIV/AIDS infection routes, particularly in the central Chinese province of Henan, where she says blood-selling is still rife in poverty-stricken rural communities.

Frequently harassed and held under house arrest by local government, who fear her power to reveal the extent of HIV/AIDS infections through blood-selling, Gao was permitted to travel to the United States to receive the "Global Leadership Award, Women Changing Our World" by the Vital Voices Global Partnership on March 14, 2007. She visited RFA's headquarters in Washington, DC during that trip:

"I am very concerned that the authorities will find new ways to keep me down, when I return. I am particularly worried about my family...I want to publish two books. One is a manuscript that I gave to a publisher in 2004, which has been dragging its feet ever since. Now the material is out of date, so I must update it and reorganize it. That book is called 'AIDS Orphans.' Another book is called '10 years in AIDS prevention.' The editor who was supposed to publish that was fired because of it and took it away with him to Guangzhou. So neither book has been published."

Blood transfusions transmit HIV

The level of education of local officials is really very low. They just take public office because they want to make money and get promoted to a higher level of official.

"The government-run blood-banks are closed. But not only have the black market blood-banks not closed, they are on the increase again. Twenty-five counties in Guizhou alone are engaged in blood-selling. Recently they discovered some people in Guangzhou who had been selling their blood for 10 years; from midnight to 6 a.m."

"[Deputy health] minister Wang [Longde] admits that the chief route of HIV transmission in China is via blood transfusions, and that we haven't managed to put a stop to that infection route. Secondly, he realizes that not enough has been done to publicize the problem; thirdly, he understands that help for those living with HIV isn't commonly available. I think something would really begin to happen if he was able to implement his way of thinking. The trouble is that what happens in Beijing is very different from what happens in the localities. In local government, all they want to do is pay lip service to AIDS prevention; they don't want to actually do anything about it."

"The level of education of local officials is really very low. They just take public office because they want to make money and get promoted to a higher level of official. It's very hard to say because the problem of corruption is also widespread at lower levels of government."

"During the time when I was under house arrest, my telephone was cut off. People calling me could hear the phone ring at their end but at my end the telephone was not ringing...But RFA got through. I said during that interview that I was under house arrest and being watched by many people. "

"Living was worse than death for me because I was under so much pressure. I believe what I said in the interview with RFA then made a difference. I believe the interview played a decisive role. I believe when the Chinese leadership learned of what I had said during the interview, they decided to allow me to travel to the United States."

Original reporting in Mandarin by Zhang Min and Shen Hua. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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