AIDS in China: A turning of the tide?

So how did European Union and Chinese delegates meeting on human rights in China wrap up their meeting this week? By visiting an AIDS treatment center in Beijing. And in light of China’s history of not acknowledging its AIDS catastrophe, this is a breakthrough.

Stories like this are suddenly becoming the norm. Bill Clinton’s recent participation in an AIDS conference in Beijing received massive media coverage, despite the CCP chieftains distancing themselves from the event. And China declared November “AIDS Awareness Month” and has plans to further spread the message on Monday, World AIDS Day.

You have to remember that it wasn’t so long ago that the CCP was denying that AIDS existed in China at all. Even after the AIDS-tainted-blood made it into the news.

So what was it that made China finally take on the AIDS issue, speaking in public about it, putting ads about it on TV, making publicized visits to AIDS treatment centers?

I’d guess that it wasn’t one thing, but a confluence of factors, including a huge crescendo over the past 8 weeks or so of international concern over China’s apparent unwillingness or inability to embrace the situation.

It was only a few weeks ago that a whole new angle was added to the media coverage of China’s AIDS crisis — the concern that AIDS was more than a social/medical nightmare for China, but a financial nghtmare with direct and painful ramifications for the economy. If anythings going to perk up the CCP’s ears, it’s that.

It’s hard to say exactly where/when the turning point began (and it may even be too early to call it a turning point at all). I’m going to take an optimistic viewpoint for once, and venture that it’s real, similar in many ways to their sudden enlightenment over SARS: It took all hell breaking loose and a shrill international outcry to get the CCP off their asses in both instances. It was only in the face of chaos and catastrophe that they budged.

But once they crossed that threshold, once they acknowledged they had a crisis that could no longer be brushed aside or covered up, they pulled out the stops and dealt with it. I really think we are seeing that now. It’s only just starting, and there is no excuse for their taking so many years to arrive at this realization. And thanks to their keeping their heads in the sand, its going to be much more difficult and expensive to contain the epidemic.

Still, if they are serious now, if they are actually making a true commitment and not just gesturing, maybe, just maybe they can deal with AIDS while there is still time. If they aren’t serious, then China will almost certainly be the next Africa, and the misery and death will be compounded exponentially.

Related post: The indescribable tragedy of AIDS in China

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 2 Comments

Waking up to the severity of AIDS

A good example of how locals saw AIDS until just last year: Zhang Guiyun, an old rural lady in Beijing’s northern outskirts, used to think that Ai Zi Bing, as the Chinese call AIDS, was just a problem for foreigners….

November 29, 2003 @ 11:27 am | Comment

AIDS: Lessons for China from the World

My ability to read books when not on holidays is limited. Not because I read slowly nor because I do not like books. The dangerously high pile on my bedside table attests to the backlog of good books I want…

December 4, 2003 @ 9:49 am | Comment

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