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Freed China Activist Says AIDS Problem Far Exceeds Official Data

Many people across China had unknowingly caught AIDS through blood transfusions in hospitals, said Wan.
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Nov 30, 2006
A leading Chinese AIDS activist recently detained by police said Thursday the number of people suffering from the disease in China could be 10 times higher than official estimates. Veteran AIDS activist Wan Yanhai also said authorities detained him and banned a conference he organized because the government was nervous about being held responsible by sufferers over their infections from public hospitals.

China's health ministry said last week that 183,733 people were confirmed with HIV/AIDS at the end of October, a 27.5 percent rise from the end of last year.

The number of confirmed cases is significantly lower than the estimate of 650,000 put forward jointly by the government and United Nations health agencies in January.

Wan, who was detained for three days over last weekend, estimated the true number could be 10 times higher than 650,000, based on the research done by the awareness group that he heads, the Beijing Aizhixing Institute.

Wan described the HIV/AIDS problem as extremely urgent, with many sufferers unable to access medication and treatment.

"We need to take more positive actions. The government is still asleep (to the problem)," he said.

Police took Wan away on Friday last week and forced him to cancel a five-day forum scheduled to start Sunday that aimed to help educate AIDS sufferers about their legal rights and how to lobby the government.

About 50 people who had contracted HIV from unsafe blood transfusions in China were slated to attend to the forum, which was to be part of activities for World AIDS Day on December 1.

Wan, who was released Monday, said he was probably detained because the government was nervous about facing up to its responsibility regarding the rampant spread of the deadly disease, and of the assembly of a group of sufferers who wanted to fight for compensation.

Apart from thousands who were infected through blood selling in the 1990s, many people across the country had unknowingly caught the disease through blood transfusions in hospitals, said Wan.

"The government has not done the public campaigns that should have been done ... it doesn't want to face this problem, the litigation, being sued and all that," he said.

"Many people passed on the infection to their children and their spouses without knowing ... many never even realized what they died of," Wan said.

"The government has not admitted to this situation and has not made a move to inform people."

Although the Chinese government has initiated many campaigns to fight AIDS in recent years, efforts by non-government organizations such as the Beijing Aizhixing Institute and other smaller AIDS concern groups are still viewed with suspicion.

They are often closely watched by authorities, which crackdown on their activities and harass HIV/AIDS sufferers and activists from time to time.

Wan himself has been detained three times.

In July, Li Xige, a woman from central China who contracted AIDS from a hospital blood transfusion, was detained on suspicion of a serious crime after she asked the health ministry for more compensation.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Durban, South Africa (AFP) Nov 29, 2006
South Africa's veteran Zulu leader Mangosutho Buthelezi, who has lost two children to AIDS, says the pandemic-blighted continent should stop sweeping the disease under the carpet. The 78-year-old leader, who caused ripples in South Africa by announcing that two of his children had succumbed to the disease, said the stigma and taboos surrounding the disease in Africa must be lifted as soon as possible.

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