Fri, Nov 26, 2004 - Page 5 News List

China's AIDS doctor publishes book

CORRESPONDENCE Gao Yaojie's book is a compliation of letters and pictures of those stricken with HIV or AIDS to highlight the problem China has yet to fully address


"You made me feel there are still many good people in the world," Feng Gang wrote to Dr. Gao Yaojie (高耀潔). "We are not a group of people abandoned by society. Instead, there are many kind-hearted people who care about us and give us AIDS [infected] people a strong belief in life."

Feng was infected with HIV/AIDS through selling his blood, like tens of thousands, or perhaps hun-dreds of thousands more in poor villages in Henan Province. He died shortly after he wrote his last letter to Gao in 2002, asking for help finding a hospital that would give him experimental drugs for free.

Gao has published Feng's picture and letters, though not his real name, in her new book 10,000 letters.

The 77-year-old Gao has perhaps done more than anyone else to expose the scandal of mass HIV/AIDS infection through government-run or illegal blood selling schemes, and the covering up of the problem by local officials who were content to leave infected people to their fate.

More importantly for the victims, Gao has simply done her best to get drugs and money to those who desperately need them, carrying out what she sees as a basic moral duty.

"Firstly, I am a doctor. To cure the sick and to save patients is my duty," she wrote in her book. "Secondly, there is no significance [to life] if one only lives for oneself and is apathetic towards the suffering of others. Such people [who ignore suffering] are not qualified to be human beings."

She published another letter from Zhang Rui, whose parents both sold blood.

"Dr Gao, that warm and strong hand of yours can comfort the ice-cold heart of a girl from the southwest region [of Henan]," Zhang wrote.

Zhang's mother died of AIDS last year, Gao said.

Gao began to realize Henan had a serious problem in 1996, after she met a woman who was infected with HIV/AIDS through a blood transfusion. At that time, few people outside the infected villages were aware of the issue. Even today, the scale of infection in Henan remains largely unknown because of poverty, fear, official cover-ups and other factors.

Henan health officials have admitted up to 100,000 people may have been infected through selling their blood since the mid-1980s, though some estimates put the number infected at between 500,000 and 700,000. A recent campaign found 20,000 more infected people, bringing the total to just over 25,000 people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in the province o4 million people.

Gao reflects the level of fear and ignorance in Henan by publishing a letter from a woman who asked her if HIV/AIDS could be contracted by eating watermelon from an "AIDS village."

In some areas of central China, rumors of AIDS cases have led to the isolation of affected villages and violence against residents who tried to enter nearby towns and villages.

Officials in Henan are also wary of Gao, fearing for their own positions and accusing her of harming the economy by drawing attention to the issue. They have prevented her from receiving an international award by refusing to issue her a passport. They still send police to spy on her, even when she leaves the province for Beijing.

Gao now enjoys more protection since state media reported her meeting last year with Vice Premier Wu Yi (吳儀), who publicly solicited Gao's opinions on how China should fight HIV/AIDS and care for those living with the disease.

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