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China Exclusive: Chinese NGOs in World AIDS Day spotlight

12-01-2012 15:44 BJT Special Report:2012 World AIDS Day |

TIANJIN, Dec. 1 (Xinhua) -- The office of Haihe Star, a Tianjin-based HIV/AIDS non-governmental organizations (NGO), is retrofitted from a three-bedroom apartment in an old residential building. A member of staff cooks lunch as he mans the organization's 24-hour hotline.

Dec. 1 is the World AIDS Day, but this Saturday is business as usual for such hard-working groups and individuals.

Two bunk-beds stand in a bedroom. According to visiting HIV carrier Dayu, they're for accommodating those traveling from the suburbs to see doctors in the city, usually for early-morning appointments, thus saving them from a long-distance trip in rush hour.

Haihe Star was behind the recent successful advocacy case that attracted Vice Premier Li Keqiang's attention. Haihe's head, Li Hu, posted an influential blog about a lung cancer patient in the city who was denied surgery after being tested HIV positive.

The vice premier reacted to the news report, issuing a call to the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Nov. 21 urging it to guarantee the right to medical treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS.

At this profile-boosting time of year for the global battle against AIDS/HIV, Haihe is thus even more in the spotlight than other Chinese NGOs working with the same cause.

Founded in 2006, it has been active in disseminating HIV/AIDS information both among the infected and the public, policy advocacy and peer support, similar in function to China's more than 1,000 HIV/AIDS NGOs.

Dayu, a 42-year-old HIV carrier running a small restaurant in suburban Tianjin, got to know Haihe Star in Oct. 2008, one year after he was diagnosed HIV positive.

"At that time, I'd already recovered from the initial shock and denial, but still, it was only after attending Haihe's lectures that I became convinced that I was not going to die soon," he says.

Haihe, with four full-time staff and many other volunteers, regularly invites health experts and HIV carriers to give lectures. Dayu says he became more assured of his prospects when the lectures gave him the chance to meet people who had been carrying the virus for more than 10 years.

"It is way more convincing than doctors telling me I will be fine," Dayu explains, recalling he panicked upon learning his HIV status and planned to lease out the restaurant and die quietly somewhere far away.

Apart from psychological support, he has obtained much of his HIV/AIDS knowledge from Haihe.

"I remember attending my first lecture on drug adherence in Nov. 2008, and I learned a lot from the doctor and other HIV friends who gave the lecture," Dayu says, explaining that doctors in conventional hospitals will usually not go into detail in terms of drug-taking tips.

People with HIV/AIDS can also ask Haihe's help with reaching doctors. Li Hu, the organizer, knows many doctors in this field as he often attends specialist symposiums, so he is in a good position to help HIV carriers find good practitioners.

While Haihe has attracted most media attention lately, it would be wrong to overlook other Chinese HIV/AIDS NGOs contributing toward the epidemic's prevention and elimination. For example, Fuhua International in the city of Kunming, Yunnan Province, is reaching out to local sex workers to distribute condoms and promote their use, an effective way to prevent HIV from spreading.

The China Alliance of PLWHA (people living with HIV, AIDS) strives to give voices to PLWHA. The alliance recently published a report showcasing the living and treatment conditions of over 100 HIV sufferers it interviewed.

All playing indispensable roles in China's battle against the epidemic with their extensive community reaches, NGOs have had their value recognized in a high-profile fashion this year, with China's leaders pledging greater support.

Vice Premier Li Keqiang earlier hailed HIV/AIDS NGOs as an indispensable, special force, vowing the government will continue looking favorably upon these organizations.

Li spoke highly of domestic NGOs' work in combating HIV/AIDS. "What you have done is wholly charitable and the principles of mutual support and mutual assistance symbolize the brilliance of human nature and the power of humanism," he said during a meeting with NGO representatives.

"In the future, we will pay greater attention to the voice of NGOs," he told the representatives, who expressed hopes of receiving more support in terms of government purchases of services, funds, and taxation policies.

According to Wu Zunyou, director of the National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention, "A meeting between high-level authority and NGOs highlights the government's recognition of and support to grass-roots force in HIV/AIDS prevention."

He warned Chinese NGOs have a long way to go in the cause of HIV/AIDS prevention and care, suggesting there is much room for improvement in public education, raising awareness among at-risk groups, expanding coverage of HIV tests and intervention, and assisting people with HIV/AIDS in anti-viral therapies.

According to MOH figures, China had reported a total of 492,191 cases of HIV/AIDS by the end of October, including 68,802 new cases this year. Some 17,740 AIDS-related deaths were reported in the country from January to October, a year-on-year increase of 8.6 percent.

Under China's AIDS Action Plan for the 12th Five-Year Program period (2011-2015) published by the State Council, or China's Cabinet, in February, the country is aiming to decrease AIDS fatalities by 30 percent by 2015, and new cases by 25 percent as compared to 2010.

Editor:Wang Xiaomei |Source: Xinhua

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