Tue, Sep 12, 2006 - Page 4 News List

UNAIDS chief encourages Beijing to mobilize NGOs

AFP , BEIJING

China's fight against HIV/AIDS cannot be won without giving more voice both to patients and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the executive director of the UN agency dealing with the disease said yesterday.

Peter Piot, head of UNAIDS, said that the Chinese government was in some ways ahead of other countries, providing free drugs to patients and clean needles to addicts. But he said NGOs should be more involved in the fight in China, where around 650,000 people have the HIV virus.

"What should be done differently is there should be better space for civil society groups to work. No country has been totally effective in dealing with AIDS without that space," Piot said on his annual visit to China.

"The government cannot do everything," he said.

The six-day visit, which began last Thursday and took Piot to Guizhou Province, is aimed at better understanding the fight against the disease at the local and grassroots level.

The UNAIDS chief said he had noticed an absence of groups such as support networks, formed by patients themselves to help each other and lobby for services.

"There should be a group of people living with HIV who can come together, support each other's rights, etcetera," Piot said.

China has been praised for turning around its attitude toward the deadly disease in the past few years -- from not admitting it had a serious epidemic on its hands to now offering 26,000 people free life-saving treatment.

But the government has been criticized by NGOs for detaining patients who appeal in groups for compensation and forbidding courts from taking up cases involving people infected through unsafe blood transfusions.

Piot said it was important to allow patients to organize, especially because a strong network could help them stay alive.

"Compliance is not just a doctor telling you to take your pills, but people coming together to give support to each other," Piot said.

"At local level, the authorities should offer that space. We didn't see it," he said.

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