SCMP Friday, December 1, 2000

Aids day marked with campaign against ignorance


Updated at 3.55pm:
Mainland health officials handed out condoms, and newspapers carried touching articles about Aids victims on Friday in a campaign to tackle public ignorance of the disease now cutting a swathe through the mainland.
The very public campaign for World Aids Day marked another milestone in the government's often plodding efforts to stem the disease's spread. Yet for all the attention, health officials and Aids sufferers worried that the effects would be as short-lived as the one-day campaign.
One Aids patient at Youanmen Hospital told the Beijing Morning Post he and others infected with the disease had seen usually large numbers of visitors in recent days.
''They hoped this attention, this day of care, would not just come one day every year,'' the official newspaper said in a front-page article.
At Beijing's Western Railway Station, city health officials and volunteers handed out pamphlets on Aids and information packets with condoms. Posters graphically showed sufferers with sores but also tried to dispel misconceptions that Aids could be caught by shaking hands or sharing toilet seats.
To try to overcome public fear, movie star Pu Cunxin has vowed to live with someone infected with HIV, the Aids virus, for a day. Pu, named the mainland's Aids prevention spokesman by the Ministry of Health, pleaded for more compassion during an Aids awareness concert attended by college students on Thursday night.
Officially, the mainland has 20,711 people with HIV and full-blown Aids. But health experts estimate at least 600,000 people are infected nationwide, and the disease is infecting 30 per cent more people annually.
Aids has spread rapidly and by many means in the mainland, unlike in other countries where sex is the prevalent route for transmission. The mainland's largest epidemics appear to be among intravenous drug users and those caught up in an illegal trade in blood.
The influential Southern Weekend newspaper ran mainland media's most detailed expose yet of Aids' spread through rural central China. The newspaper said Aids was now afflicting counties surrounding four major cities. Most of the victims are farmers and migrant labourers who sold blood for money, the report said.
Although Beijing has tried to outlaw blood sales, its medical system has a chronic shortage of blood and plasma and other blood products.