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How Not to Fight HIV/ AIDS in China

Posted by Author on January 28, 2008

Joe Amon, The Guardian, January 28, 2008-

There’s a new public service announcement on HIV/Aids on Chinese TV. Starring Jackie Chan and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, it features a man and a woman spinning through the air in a not-so-subtle combat which includes elements of courtship, foreplay and climax. The ad ends with Chan saying: “In life, we need to be safe. Life is too good. Please protect yourself.” Sounds promising? Actually it’s a remarkable distillation of everything we know that doesn’t work in the fight against HIV/Aids.

More than 25 years into the global Aids epidemic, one thing we’ve learned is that you can’t fight HIV through artful, oblique messages approved by government ministries and broadcast on television. Where HIV prevalence has declined, what has made the difference is frank, specific discussion about HIV, why people are at risk and what can be done to avoid infection. Grassroots, community-led efforts which empower those at highest risk have been critical, and the emergence of an organised, vocal civil society, advocating an end to sexual violence and access to information, condoms, clean needles, and medicines, have changed the face of the epidemic in many countries.

While the Chinese government has taken some steps in this direction, too much of the response remains style over substance. Those groups most vulnerable to infection – injecting drug users, men who have sex with men, and sex workers – are still routinely harassed and abused by the police, and driven away from the information and services that could help them. Aids activists continue to be detained, intimidated and prevented from speaking out.

In 2007, public security forces in Guangdong, Guangzhou and Kaifeng cancelled meetings of Aids activists, academics and programme implementers, and ordered the closure of two offices of a nonprofit organisation working on Aids in Henan provinces. Eighty-year-old Aids activist Dr Gao Yaojie was barred from going to the US to receive a human rights award until an international outcry forced the Chinese government to relent, and 2005 Reebok human rights award winner Li Dan and the husband-and-wife HIV/Aids activist team of Hu Jia and Zeng Jinyan have been repeatedly detained and put under house arrest.

In November, two weeks before the advertisement by Jackie Chan launched, Hu was beaten up by the police on his way to the hospital to visit his pregnant wife, and in late December Hu was arrested for “inciting subversion”. His wife and infant have been prevented from leaving their home. Human Rights Watch has also learned that Hu’s lawyers have been denied access to their client because the case involved “state secrets”. At about the same time that Hu was detained, Dr Wan Yan Hai, a prominent Chinese Aids advocate and the developer of China’s first HIV/Aids telephone hotline and website was briefly detained.

Along with the unveiling of the Jackie Chan advertisement, the Gates foundation announced last month that it was launching a new $50m HIV/Aids programme. The foundation spent months negotiating its entry into China and plans to use nearly half of its money directly funding the Ministry of Health. Like the TV advertisement, the Gates Foundation’s decision to directly fund the Chinese government is a decision rooted less in what will be effective at driving down HIV prevalence, and more in what is considered “acceptable”. Not surprisingly, the foundation has had no comment on the detention of those activists working on the front lines in the fight against Aids in China.

It’s easy to ask people to protect themselves. To stop the Aids epidemic in China we also need to ask the Chinese government not to harass, intimidate and beat up those seeking the means to be protected.

Original report from the Guardian

2 Responses to “How Not to Fight HIV/ AIDS in China”

  1. Asia: Poverty Forcing Teenage Girls into Risky Sex Work

    Women and girls make up a growing proportion of those infected by HIV/AIDS. The United Nations estimates that every day 6,000 young people aged 15 to 24 become infected with HIV. A staggering two-thirds of these new cases are adolescent women. Economic, social, and cultural factors contribute to the disparity of new HIV/AIDS cases between men and women. At the end of 2004, UNAIDS reported that women made up almost half of the 37.2 million adults (aged 15 to 49) living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. The hardest-hit regions are areas where heterosexual contact is the primary mode of transmission. This is most evident in sub-Saharan Africa, where close to 60% of adults living with HIV/AIDS are women.

    Child prostitution in India is on the rise, and one third of the sex workers are being under 18 years old. The underlying causes of child trafficking include poverty and lack of economic opportunities for young people, the low status of girls, high demand for commercial sex, cheap labour, weak law enforcement, discrimination and conflict. Surveys on trafficking and sexual exploitation conducted in South Asia, including in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, show that trafficking of children is lucrative, well organized and linked to criminal activity and corruption. It is also transnational, often hidden and therefore hard to combat.

    This depressing picture is compounded by the use of teenage girls as prostitutes in countries throughout the world. An unknown but vast number of teenage girls are used for commercial sexual purposes every year, often ending up with their health destroyed, victims of various STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) or HIV/AIDS. Teenage girls are sought with the expectation that clients will not be exposed to HIV. But prostitutes do not have bargaining power. That belongs to the customers, it has confirmed almost impossible to give prostitutes bargaining power in terms of condoms. Teenage prostituted can be raped, beaten, emotionally abused, tortured, and even killed by pimps, brothel owners or clients. Some have been trafficked from one country to another. Moreover, teenage prostitutes are frequently treated as criminals by law enforcement and judicial authorities, rather than as teenage girls who are victims of sexual exploitation.

    AIDS Researcher Ms. Muslem Khan Bulon said poverty, trafficking & HIV/AIDS are interrelated; especially women and girls are trafficking for use of prostitution. Teenage girls trafficked to India are at high risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases(STDs), including HIV/AIDS, because of India is the second largest HIV/AIDS infected country in the world, It is estimated that half of the girls in Mumbai brothels who are under the age of 18 years have been infected with HIV.

    Most of trafficking girls or women would face several physical & sexual abuses. When a girl or women newly enrolls a sex industry, she tries to safe herself heard & soul, but most of the time they couldn’t free her. A survey conducted by Rainbow Nari O Shishu Kallyan Foundation that the girls forced (trafficking) into the brothels do not want to return to their homes once they are into it for more than one year. Such girls believe, they would be victim of social stigma and face discrimination from the society. They also believe, their family would suffer several social taboo, self-respect, and social-dignity.

    AIDS researcher Mohammad Khairul Alam said, “Trafficking in girls and women is warmly linked to movements in search of employment opportunities. Poverty and gender discrimination make girls and women more vulnerable to traffickers and buyers. The traffickers are not accompanying the women while crossing the border. So it is difficult for the border police to arrest them. There are some female members in the trafficking gang, which helps to hide their identity. Initiatives to reduce poverty and promote gender equality are therefore of direct importance in efforts to combat trafficking.”

    Mahmuda Begum
    Udayan High School
    Dhaka, Bangladesh

  2. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Aaron Wakling

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