Tue, Jul 24, 2007 - Page 13 News List

Teaching the young about AIDS

Though discrimination and stigma run deep, Taiwanese activists and officials are pushing for greater awareness about HIV/AIDS to thwart an emerging epidemic

By Noah Buchan  /  STAFF REPORTER

"Taiwanese [are] a conservative people," he said. "We do not take sex education in our official class. It's in our textbooks [but it's not taught in the classroom]."

This is a sentiment echoed by Twu Shiing-jer (涂醒哲), former health minister and current Director of the Taiwan AIDS Foundation (台灣紅絲帶基金團).

"Many teachers don't know how to teach it [sex education]. So they have the students read about it by themselves," he said.

Considering HIV is increasingly a disease that affects the young, Yen says it's important safe sex education starts young age.

"We still face some difficulty trying to put condom machines in the school," he says.

Public officials are responding to parents' concerns that condom machines in high schools will encourage promiscuity. Oddly, many parents fear that raising awareness about the disease increases the likelihood of getting it.

CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

Such fears have filtered into the business community. Twu said many businesses refuse to support HIV/AIDS foundations or conduct in-house training because of the stigma surrounding the disease.

"Another reason is because if you put the money in people ask, 'Are you gay?'" he said.

At a recent HIV/AIDS summit held in Taipei, Anthony Pramualratana, executive director of the Thailand Business Coalition on AIDS, said the business and labor communities need to get involved.

Pramualratana's foundation works with Thailand's ministry of labor to provide courses on HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness. After taking the course, the company receives accreditation showing they are following proper labor standards. His foundation has so far accredited 4,111 companies in Thailand, covering more than 300,000 employees.

"Taiwan needs a champion, a champion who writes formal letters that say, 'You have to get involved here,'" he said.

Yen agreed, saying that putting a story like Hofmann's into the curriculum was really important, to show students the scope of the risk.

Having role models that people can relate to, such as former US basketball star Magic Johnson, is a necessary step that has already occurred in North America and Europe. Twu also suggests an NGO that messages between different foundations and organizations.

"In Malaysia they have 22 NGOs and there is [a] 23rd to integrate all the others," Two said.

Though the business community has been slow to get involved, there is no shortage of people giving money to the Harmony Home Association (關愛之家), a non-profit group that cares for people with HIV/AIDS.

The foundation's secretary general Nicole Yang (楊捷) says 85 percent of her funding comes from private donors and 15 percent comes from the government. But Yang says attitudes in Taiwan are changing slowly.

DISCRIMINATION STILL EXISTS

Yang cites the recent controversy in Taipei's' Wenshan District and another hospice her group operates in Kaohsiung - in which neighbors forced midway homes for HIV/AIDS patients to relocate - as examples of how communities in Taiwan still discriminate against people with the disease.

"They think that the people who have HIV/AIDS are drug users or gay people or the people who have a lot of sex [and] they are a high-risk population," she said.

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