Positive China still facing a tough battle, despite change for the better

Published: July 24, 2014

China may have a low prevalence of HIV in the world, but new infections are rising among students and men who have sex with men.

But grassroots organisations who try to educate the public about the virus are facing resistance.

They also continue to battle misunderstandings about HIV.

Correspondent: Huey Fern Tay, China Correspondent

Speakers: Mao Aiqing, HIV counsellor; Yang Jie, Deep Blue founder

HUEY FERN TAY: 43 year old Mao Aiqing is undergoing a regular blood test at an NGO in Tianjin, a city just half an hour from Beijing by high speed rail.

Mr Mao found out he was living with HIV three years ago after being tested by this organisation called ‘Deep Blue’.

MAO AIQING: Back then I didn’t know much about HIV/AIDS. I thought it was something really frightening, " he says. "HIV and AIDS used to be portrayed in soap operas as something terminal, like cancer. It was incurable. You’d die very quickly."

HUEY FERN TAY:In his spare time, Mr Mao counsels some of the 800 men who are tested positive for HIV every year at Deep Blue.

The centre was founded by Yang Jie a decade ago.

He’s in Melbourne for the 20th International Aids Conference to drum up support for his organisation.

But when in Tianjin, Mr Yang maintains a low profile in his outreach work among the city’s gay community.

There’s not even a sign outside the building where Mr Yang’s office is because he suffered a public backlash a few years ago when the neighbours found out about the nature of his work. Mr Yang says local residents rang the police because they were worried they would be infected.

YANG JIE: This is a classic case of ‘not in my backyard’. They understand the work we do is good, it’s for the public, they support it, he says. They were worried the value of their property will come down because of the existence of our office.

HUEY FERN TAY:China has a low prevalence of HIV and has made progress in educating people about the virus and treating those who live with it. However stigma and discrimination exists even in a metropolis like Tianjin.

Yang Jie also encounters opposition whenever he visits schools and universities to raise awareness about HIV among young Chinese. New HIV infections among this section of the population is increasing. The prevalence of HIV among men who have sex with men in China is also on the rise.

YANG JIE: Recently there have been calls in the media for teenagers to receive sex education at a much younger age," he says. "Things have improved dramatically over the years but there’s still much room for improvement."

HUEY FERN TAY:The UN says some studies show less than 15 percent of Chinese youth know how to prevent HIV infections. It’s a sign that something is missing in the country’s public health campaign.

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