Washington Post (11.20.01) - Tuesday, November 20, 2001
"I want to tell my story," said Zhao, 39, who sneaked out of
one of China's few AIDS clinics because doctors barred
reporters from visiting him there. "I want to appeal to
society to save my life and my son's life... We are desperate,
and I am not afraid to speak out openly."
For the Chinese government, that is the problem. Last week's
first national conference on AIDS was replete with government
officials and celebrities, but only a few people with HIV/AIDS
were allowed to appear. The government wants to educate the
public about AIDS, but it is afraid of what might happen if
people with HIV are permitted to speak freely and criticize
"The government wants to stay in control of the message," said
Wan Yanhai, a former Health Ministry official and an AIDS
activist. "Their position is, AIDS is a problem for the
government and the experts to solve, not for regular people
and not for grass-roots organizations." Only one HIV-positive
person, 26-year old AIDS educator Li Zhiyong, was permitted to
speak at length at the conference, and only to a small
gathering. Another patient, who remained anonymous, delivered
brief remarks at the opening ceremony. Standing on a corner of
a darkened stage, he thanked the government for "giving me the
courage to survive."
Almost everyone with HIV or AIDS who appears on Chinese
television has his or her face and voice obscured
electronically. "By always disguising people with HIV, the
media is sending the message that these people are different,"
said Ou Zhiyong, a health official from the western city of
Chengdu. "There are definitely people willing to be
identified. Many people with HIV are poor and can't afford
treatment, and they want to go to the media and ask for help."
About 600,000 people in China have been infected with HIV,
according to officials. A state-run newspaper reported last
week that the actual figure could be five to 10 times higher.