Indispensable new article on China’s AIDS plague

This exhaustive article tracks Time’s 1996 Man of the Year Dr. David Ho as he fights to convince the Chinese government to acknowledge and respond to its festering AIDS crisis.

The article focuses on Ho’s efforts in Yunnan, where he’s initiating trials of an AIDS vaccine for those most likely to become infected, mainly injection drug users and sex workers. Every step of the way, Ho has to struggle with the government and the effects of its stigmatization of AIDS:

“They desperately want help,” he [Ho] says of the doctors he met in Wenlou. “They obviously have the data on AIDS patients but are afraid to show us.”

That fear is well founded. Adding to the stigma surrounding AIDS in these villages is the role that local leaders played in the blood-buying program. “Many government officials made a lot of money,” says the patient advocate who calls himself Ke’Er. To protect themselves, they wrapped their villages in the cloak of state secrecy, effectively sealing off AIDS patients from foreign aid groups as well as health officials from other provinces. AIDS-care centers still won’t put the word AIDS on their doors, opting instead for such intentionally obscure labels as “home garden.”

To their credit, the authors also note how helpful some of the health officials are being to Dr. Ho, as their alarm at the magnitude of the crisis grows.

The article includes the usual horror stories of China’s AIDS victims and their children (200,000 of whom are now parentless in Henan Province), and the maddening attempts to move officials to action. It also gives us reason to hope as it chronicles Dr. Ho’s successes in pushing the boulder up the mountain.

More than anything, the article is a tribute to Dr. Ho, whose patience, perseverance and dedication make him one of the greatest heroes of our time. How ironic, that he is forced to play a David-and-Goliath scenario when he is trying desperately to save Goliath from death and destruction.

Related post: The indescribable tragedy of AIDS in China

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