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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
Blood and Tears: A Chinese Family's Ordeal in a Nation in
Elisabeth Rosenthal
September 17, 2001
New York Times (09.16.01) - Monday, September 17, 2001

Shen Jieyong was happy to buy his pregnant wife transfusions when she returned to their rural hometown to give birth in 1988. "Our home village is poor, so for my wife to receive transfusions seemed like a kind of honor...," he said. But the transfusions were unscreened for infectious diseases and were purchased off the street from someone paid to donate.

Last November, Ms. Chen died of AIDS. Since then Mr. Shen has spent countless hours carrying his weak and coughing 3-year old to doctors to treat the deadly virus that is killing him and his little girl.

As China takes steps to combat its growing AIDS epidemic, the government has made blood safety its technical priority, allocating $117 million to improve blood banks. But the causes of the Shen family tragedy will be hard to prioritize in time to stop the HIV challenge in that country: ignorance, denial, discrimination, weak laws and a rural health system that is expensive, corrupt and essentially bankrupt.

The Shens were middle class and did not appear at risk for a disease associated with intravenous drug use and prostitution. They moved to Suzhou in 1995, but returned to Nanzhang, their hometown, for the impending birth of their child. "I met two of the blood sellers," Mr. Shen said. "As I know, there were no tests on the blood and the men had no checkups." By 1998, officials knew that HIV had entered the population of blood sellers in central China. Nanzhang is not far from the border of Henan province, where the percentage of blood sellers with HIV is over 50 percent in some villages. While it is illegal to sell blood, China's official blood banks can meet less than half of the need of patients.

In an article about Ms. Chen's case in the China Health News, one official said that the transfusions were "a case of having no other option," noting that Nanzhang is about 20 miles from the county seat. Ultimately, the blood shortage is exacerbated by a financial incentive for rural doctors to procure and sell blood on the sly. Blood from an individual seller costs about $5 and can be sold for about $250.

Shen has been forced to close his hair salon business. While he has sued the rural hospital and received a big award, it is unlikely that the hospital can pay. Unemployed and treated like a pariah, Shen fears doctors will abandon his daughter if they know she has HIV. "When my wife told doctors in Suzhou, they all refused to treat her," he said.