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UNAIDS: Stigma, Discrimination Block China's Fight Against AIDS

Only a small percentage of Chinese HIV-infected people have been tested and even less received treatment as stigma and discrimination keeps them away from appropriate help, UNAIDS official said on Wednesday.

Most of the 700,000 people living with HIV had not been tested and were unaware of the infection, which was harmful to HIV prevention, said Bernhard Schwartlander, Country Coordinator in Beijing of United Nations (UN) and official of UNAIDS.

Formal Deputy Minister of Health of China, Wang Longde, said that among the tested HIV-positive people, only one fifth received treatment, offered by the government for free, while the other nearly 20,000 refused to be treated because of the fear for discrimination.

The report of an AIDS survey in China by UNAIDS shows that more than 30 percent of the interviewees from six cities thought people with HIV/AIDS deserved their disease because of their sexual behavior or drug abuse.

More than two thirds of the 6,000 interviewees of the survey were unwilling to live in same household with an HIV-infected person and half were unwilling to have a meal with one infected, according to the report.

Wang Longde, now the president of the Chinese prevention medicine Association, believe that the conversational views on sex are extremely deep rooted in Chinese people's minds, which is the source of stigma and discrimination.

An HIV-infected activist named Edwin Cameron said, "People are dying of AIDS unnecessarily."

Cameron, the high-profile South African Supreme Court judge who was invited to visit China by UNAIDS, said China and his country shared the common problem of severe discrimination and stigma, which is a "tragedy".

"I'm glad to see the Chinese government had launched anti-AIDS strategy including free treatment policies. But no policy is perfect," he said.

"Discrimination has been banned by laws ten years ago while it still spreads."

More knowledge popularization work from the government, media and non-governmental organizations, was called on by both the activist and the formal official.

Things had been changed since the government took action, Wang said.

Chinese Top leaders' visits to the HIV positive people showed the government's positive altitude towards eliminating discrimination, which had initiated nationwide campaign to care for the infected, said Cameron, author of "Witness to AIDS".

The autobiography, whose Chinese version is expected to be published before the coming World AIDS Day, was awarded South Africa's most prestigious literary award for non-fiction, the Sunday Times/Alan Paton prize.

(Xinhua News Agency October 31, 2008)

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