Yunnan province — setting the example for dealing with AIDS in China?

According to a detailed article in The Guardian (brought to my attention by a reader via email – thanks!), Yunnan province is taking extraordinary strides in educating its populace about AIDS prevention. Thanks to its position alongside the “Golden Triangle,” its high poverty rate and high rates of prostitution and illegal drugs, Yunnan has long been seen as a primary breeding ground for AIDS.

At the end of last year, local officials reported 15,000 confirmed cases of the disease in the province. Because so many of those likely to have been affected live in remote mountain communities where there is little opportunity for testing, it is estimated that the actual figure is probably above 80,000 and rising at the rate of about 30% per year.

That is the bad news. The good news is that Yunnan has done more than any other province to face up to the problem rather than pretending it does not exist, which is still the approach favoured by many local governments. Yunnan has given the media greater freedom to report on the issue, welcomed support from international organisations and shown a willingness to experiment with radical pilot projects, elements of which have since been adopted nationwide.

Earlier this year, Yunnan became the first province in China to enact a local ordinance on HIV prevention. It is the first place where free condoms are provided in hotel rooms, where methadone and needle-exchange programs are offered to drug users trying to kick the habit, and where local officials are attempting outreach programs to socially ostracised groups such as sex workers and homosexuals.

Arguably more radical has been a program to re-educate the police, who are more used to fighting gun battles with drug dealers and throwing users into detention centres. Since 2002, the training program at the Yunnan police academy has included a course on HIV-Aids prevention partly funded by a grant of 380,000 RMB (£25,000) from the UK.

The Chinese police — being trained with funding from a UK AIDS prevention program? Now, that is amazing.

If you follow this topic, you have to read the article. It’s another very positive sign that China is taking meaningful steps to deal with what could become one of the worst catastrophes in its history.

The country still isn’t taking enough such steps on its own volition. Outside forces, be they foreign funding groups, Dr. David Ho or Bill Clinton, are constantly having to force China’s arm. But looking at Yunnan, there’s cause for some genuine optimism.

Related article: The indescribable tragedy of AIDS in China

The Discussion: 2 Comments

I find The Guardian’s approach to covering China extremely strange.

I have yet to see a Guardian article that uses direct quotes and does not sound like a civic opinion letter to the editor.

Where do they get their information. It looks like whoever wrote this picked up all the info on the net.

June 7, 2004 @ 5:08 am | Comment

I see the quote now. Thank you Mr. Watts, for relieving me of my angst over your reporting.

June 7, 2004 @ 5:13 am | Comment

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