At the Bangkok conference on HIV/AIDS earlier this month, China was among those countries that agreed the disease poses a serious threat to stability in Asia. Their position was made public when Premier Wen Jiabao (
The disease is a problem common in both China and Taiwan, and closer cooperation between the two countries would save lives as well as extend goodwill across the Taiwan Strait. For this to happen there needs to be a commitment from both sides to depoliticize this issue and a recognition that the fight against the disease must be made at the regional level. China's efforts to cope with the spread of HIV/AIDS should be commended while the deficiencies in its approach should be seen as opportunities for cooperation -- rather than objects of criticism.
Its efforts have been significant. In 1998, China established the "Long and Medium Term Plan for HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control." Under this, a host of measures have been introduced to record the spread of the disease and pilot projects in high risk areas such as Yunnan and Sichuan are now being implemented nationwide.
The most recent UN report on China recognizes the anti-HIV/AIDS measures taken thus far, but calls for more action, including the massive increase in spending on prevention and treatment.
There should be no doubt as to the severity of HIV/AIDS as a developmental problem in China. The spread of the virus in eastern cities, however, follows a pattern similar to that of Taiwan. One group most at risk in China are homosexuals.
It is estimated that 49 percent of HIV-positive people in Taiwan are from the gay community. The risk is compounded by the prejudice that still exists in Asia against gays, a prejudice that is stronger in China -- which only recently took homosexuality off its list of mental health diseases. Despite moves to allow gay marriages, the recent humiliation of the gay community by police in Taiwan were shows that further work is needed.
As far as HIV/AIDS among homosexuals is concerned, Taiwan has made some gains, and it is the information and experience in this country which would be useful in China. Condoms are being distributed to men in popular gay night spots by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), while the Taipei Venereal Disease Control Institute placed condom machines in the 228 Peace Park.
Recently, an award was given to the Gender/Sexuality Rights association of Taiwan by The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. The Association's work educating homosexuals as to the risks of HIV/AIDS included talks at the Taipei City Center. This grassroots activity, combined with the government's determination to fight HIV/AIDS, along with attempts to integrate the gay community into society should serve as examples to the cities on China's east coast.
There is very little being done in eastern China to deal with the spread of HIV/AIDS in the gay community. Especially worrying is the lack of information on HIV/AIDS rates among homosexuals in China. According to a survey conducted in Beijing, in 2001, infection rates hovered around a staggering 4 to 5 percent.
In an online journal, NGO worker Odilon Couzin notes that Shanghai gay hot line workers complain that there is no data on the prevalence of the disease among the gay community in what is arguably China's most modern city. The Chinese public still harbors suspicions of this community, which will only delay a balanced assessment of the situation, and in all likelihood contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS.
It cannot be denied that China is making a real effort to deal with its growing HIV/AIDS problem, but it needs help from NGOs and governments around the world. No country in Asia would benefit from an AIDS epidemic in China, so all should be willing to cooperate with each other.
Taiwan clearly has much that it can offer the China. In order to understand and assess the threat posed by HIV/AIDS, NGOs should collaborate with those groups working with the gay community in China.
The cultural similarities between China and Taiwan should make successful programs here easily transferable across the strait. If grassroots organizations on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are able to work together, this will signal to all those afflicted with this terrible disease that real efforts are being made to help them.
Toby Lincoln has a masters degree in Chinese Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. He currently works as a researcher in sustainable development and corporate social responsibility.
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