The retired doctor, 76, who blew the whistle on the Henan AIDS scandal

“Grandma” Gao Yaojie, a 76-year-old retired gynecologist, has had her phone tapped and her travel restricted and is under constant government surveillance. Her crime? She is China’s best-known AIDS activist and the one who single handedly brought the story of the Henan province AIDS scandal to light.

A magnificent profile of this hero is as inspiring as it is distrubing.

She has spent eight years describing the greed and incompetence she blames for infecting hundreds of thousands of villagers and uses her pension to buy anti-Aids drugs.

Her campaign started in 1996 when she was called in to see a man with unusual symptoms. “He had strange red marks on his skin,” she said. “I suggested he go for a blood test. My diagnosis was correct. He had Aids.”

The man told her he had donated blood. When Dr Gao and colleagues investigated, they found that the province’s hospitals were provided with blood by a network of businessmen who went round poor villages paying farmers to donate.

So that they could donate more often, donors were injected with blood plasma. It came from an HIV-contaminated common pool, sending infection rates soaring.

Dr Gao toured the countryside and found village after village full of sick people, whole families dying. But her work, and the publicity it brought, were not welcomed by the authorities. Her phone was bugged and her home watched. When she won an international human rights award, she was stopped from going abroad to receive it.

It would be a shocking story if it happened elsewhere, but China isn’t renowned for encouraging, let alone rewarding, whistelblowers who make the government look bad. While the government harasses her, the people worship her.

….with brusque manners and outspokenness Gao Yaojie, 76, has exposed the plight of central China’s dirt-poor, Aids-infected villages, bullying health authorities into providing some limited care.

The area’s farmers sing her praises and at the other end of the social scale she has been feted by prime ministers and China’s top academics.

Yet, when she arrived at the gates of China’s leading university to listen to a speech by Bill Clinton in November, she was stopped by officials. They had followed her from her home in Zhengzhou, in Henan province, they said.

Why did she insist on disclosing her country’s secrets to its enemies, they asked. She was told that foreigners wanted to overthrow China – meaning the Communist Party – and she was the person who exposed its “bad things” to the world.

Amazingly, none of the CCP’s tactics have slowed her down or diluted her barbed criticisms of the government. Gao remains furious that the officials behind the blood donation scheme “have been promoted, not punished.” How ironic that, despite her recognition among the people as a saint, it is Gao whom the government is harassing, and not the criminals who created this staggering mess.

The Discussion: 2 Comments

Great post! The caste system is alive and well. Oh that’s a secret….sorry!

February 22, 2004 @ 8:49 pm | Comment

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May 22, 2006 @ 3:49 am | Comment

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