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

Discrimination also remains an issue in the medical community.

"We have HIV/AIDS special clinics or what we call 'assigned centers' caring for HIV/AIDS [patients]," said Wong Wing-wai (王永衛), medical director of Taipei City's Consortium of Disease Control and executive secretary of the Drug Abuse Prevention Center (毒品危害防治中心).

The clinics provide services for everything from obstetrics to orthopedics to surgery, he said. Their purpose is to give patients the best possible care in a sympathetic environment. However, the policy has created a loophole for physicians who don't want to treat patients with HIV.

"They now have an excuse [to] refer the patient to [assigned centers] and have no obligation to care for the patient," Wong said.

Because changing adult perceptions is difficult, Yang focuses much of her considerable energy on educating Taiwan's youth in the public school system, giving lectures and seminars to students about the disease and how people get it.

"We bring AIDS patients and the children [with HIV/AIDS] to schools. It's very useful. It's basic education and it takes time for people to understand."

Yang said Harmony Home's appeal to schools caused her organization to change from a non-governmentally regulated volunteer organization to an officially recognized NGO back in 2004. Since then, schools throughout the island have called upon their services to educate students in large audiences about the disease. Her group has made presentations to 200,000 students throughout Taiwan, or an average of 75,000 students per year.

Hank is often a guest speaker at these lectures. He finds young students who, before the lecture begins, are afraid to approach him or children with HIV, will more often than not mob the stage to hug him after the lecture.

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