The abuse of people infected with HIV/AIDS in the southern Chinese province of Henan has worsened, with local officials determined to "crack down" on infected villages and then cover up their actions before applying for international aid, RFA's Mandarin service reports.
According to a report by the non-governmental Aizhi Institute of AIDS and Health Education in Beijing, the Henan provincial authorities are guilty of a "daily assault" on the human rights of HIV/AIDS patients in the province.
"When local AIDS patients in Shangcai Country's Xiongqiao Village requested medicine and assistance, they were savagely beaten and then arrested," the Aizhi Institute's report said. "Currently, four villagers are still in detention."
It said that the Shangcai County government "triumphantly broadcasts on local television the news of its illegal and criminal actions, in 'severely cracking down' on villages that are heavily infected with AIDS," adding that the local school for AIDS orphans recently had its permit taken away.
Local residents confirmed to RFA their awareness that the AIDS situation in Henan was probably the worst in China. "At first we had private blood banks. After the blood banks were shut down for selling blood, they ran away to avoid responsibility," said one resident, who declined to be named for fear of reprisals. "But the officials didn't really do anything about it."
The report detailed further abuses, including surveillance of AIDS patient advocates and the expulsion of AIDS workers from outside the province.
"As a result, the Chinese people are either dying silently and ignorantly or spreading the disease even more widely," the report warned, calling on the central government in Beijing to recognize the problems in Henan and start applying solutions nationally.
"First, they need to realize that public health concerns can be an important issue that affects the country's future," Beijing-based AIDS activist Hu Jia told RFA. "Second, they need to realize that hiding the epidemic status will lead to grave consequences and, surely, heads will roll."
Chinese health officials were widely criticized for covering up the severity of the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed 774 people and infected 8,099 worldwide. The government responded by extending its co-operation with the World Health Organization (WHO) and vowing to punish anyone caught manipulating the numbers.
Hu said the announcement earlier this month from China's vice-minister of health, Gao Qiang, that the rate of AIDS infections in the country had reached a new high, was a welcome start to what he hoped would be an era of greater transparency for the AIDS epidemic, too.
"From now on, at least in my opinion, probably no one will say absurd things like the epidemic status is a state secret," he said. "This is a vast improvement. We've never heard top-level health officials mention this before."
The Aizhi Institute's report also stressed that the epidemic status of infectious diseases must not be regarded as a state secret. It called for prosecution of local government officials who sold blood intended for AIDS sufferers and better support services for AIDS sufferers and their families.
In June, RFA reported the beating of Yang Mingfan, an HIV-positive woman who attempted to protest the plight of HIV/AIDS sufferers in the province during a visit by officials from the WHO.
Overseas charities estimate that more than 1 million people have contracted HIV/AIDS in Henan, mostly while donating blood for money to improve their standard of living in the early 1990s. The virus has spread rapidly over the last decade, with devastating social and economic consequences.
In some of the hardest-hit villages, more than 40 percent of the adult population has contracted the virus.
Official figures put the total number of Chinese infected with HIV/AIDS at around 1 million, although only a small percentage of these cases is reported.