AIDS Welfare Pledges Still Unmet

China's central government fails to release funds for treatment to local authorities.

aids2011-305.jpg A man gets a free AIDS test during an event to mark World's AIDS Day in Chongqing, Dec. 1, 2011.

As Chinese health authorities warned of rising HIV infections ahead of World AIDS Day on Thursday, activists hit out at the government for failing to keep its promises to patients.

Activists unveiled a large red AIDS ribbon outside the finance ministry in Beijing this week, calling on officials to release funding for AIDS programs to local governments.

"The police had already started to keep an eye on us when we got there, and we were all taken away," said activist and AIDS patient Gao Yanping.

"There were around a dozen people ... Some people said they would be there, but didn't show up," he said.

Gao said the group was calling on the finance ministry to release funds to ensure that local governments could meet the pledges of central government for people living with HIV.

He said Document 26, issued by the ministry of civil affairs in 2009, was the result of a lengthy consultation between the ministry and local communities addressing the welfare needs of people living with HIV.

"The civil affairs ministry wanted to agree to it, but they first have to secure the funding from the finance ministry," Gao said.

"We have come here today to let the government know that we are still very actively pursuing this."

Security tight

Meanwhile, Henan-based Liang Guoqiang, who lives with HIV, said he had traveled to Beijing to draw attention to the plight of HIV/AIDS patient in poverty-stricken Henan for World AIDS Day.

Liang said he was infected with HIV following a tainted blood transfusion, along with many in Henan's "AIDS villages."

A third activist, who also has HIV, Liu Junhong, said security was very tight at a Beijing hospital where campaigners also went.

"There were a lot of police there," Liu said. "When we got to the hospital, we went to the outpatient clinic to display our red ribbon."

"One of the plainclothes police came over and asked us about it," he said. "We wanted to complain about our situation to a higher authority."

Liu said local officials in his hometown have failed to live up to the promises made to HIV/AIDS patients.

"AIDS patients were supposed to get some welfare payments and social assistance, at the rate of 600 yuan per month," he said, referring to pledges made in Document 26.

Brought back by officials

Henan-based activist Li Xia said she had been detained by local officials from her hometown of Shangqiu on arriving in Beijing to join the other activists.

"I was taken back home by local officials [on Tuesday]," she said from her home. "While I was in Beijing, they took my bag away, and six people shoved me into the car and brought me back."

Beijing-based rights activist Liu Shasha said China's AIDS patients have been badly let down following the government's 2009 promises of subsidies.

"They have been kicked around from department to department," she said.

"The state development and reform commission says there isn't a formal government document, that the civil affairs ministry isn't enough on its own, and that it will have to come from the State Council [China's cabinet]," Liu added.

"They told me by phone today that their action was successful, that they brought out a large red ribbon as a piece of performance art."

Official media made no mention of the activists' campaigns, nor of claims by top AIDS whistle-blower Gao Yaojie that 90 percent of China's HIV infections are transmitted through tainted transfusions and blood-selling schemes.

Instead, official news stories focused on a greater level of unsafe sex among heterosexual elderly men and college students.

Goal 'hard to achieve'

HIV/AIDS prevention and control center director Wu Zunyou told the official Xinhua news agency that China's goal of reducing HIV/AIDS infections by 25 percent and deaths by 30 percent in 2015 would be very hard to achieve.

Chinese authorities are expecting the number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the country to reach 780,000 by the end of 2011.

However, independent AIDS experts like Gao say the true number may be closer to 10 million, with 90 percent of those infected through blood-selling and transfusion schemes.

Meanwhile, a U.N. Development Programme study released today said that HIV-affected households in Asia frequently exhaust their savings and liquidate assets at a "disproportionately high rate," often plunging families into "irreversible poverty."

The report, Socio-Economic Impact of HIV at the Household Level in Asia: A Regional Analysis, noted especially the impact on women working extra jobs to care for the ill and support their families, and called for "urgent mitigation measures" to halt the socio-economic collapse of what it called tens of thousands of households in the region.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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