Yunnan takes action to stem spread of HIV/AIDS

Updated: 2014-02-21 07:05

By Hu Yongqi and Guo Anfei in Kunming (China Daily USA)

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Health authorities in Yunnan province, which recorded 10,553 new HIV/AIDS carriers and patients last year, are trying to stem the spread of the disease by improving healthcare and funding non-governmental organizations that specialize in education and medical services.

The provincial and city governments spent 111 million yuan ($18.25 million) on prevention of the disease last year, an increase of about 5 percent from 2012, according to the Yunnan Provincial Bureau of Health. The central government contributed 348 million yuan to support the province's fight.

Last year in the province, 7,467 people were infected with HIV/AIDS but were not receiving treatment, the provincial health bureau said. More than 79,800 people in the province are infected with the disease.

NGOs have unique advantages, health authorities said, because carriers of the disease feel more comfortable approaching them. Several of the NGOs, including the Yundi Harm Reduction Network, employ volunteers who were drug addicts but have since cleaned up their lives. Many of the NGOs keep their patients' information confidential.

Recognizing these advantages, the provincial government allocated 1.5 million yuan last year to NGOs. It sought out NGOs who provide education and medical services in high-risk regions and who can manage the spread of the disease.

The Yunnan health bureau set up an additional 500,000-yuan fund for NGOs to improve the welfare of HIV/AIDS patients and carriers last year, said Xu Heping, deputy director of the provincial health bureau.

As of Dec 31, more than 20,000 patients had died from the disease in Yunnan since 1989. Last year, there was a 23 percent rise in the number of HIV/AIDS carriers who contracted the disease through heterosexual or homosexual sex. Some 23 percent of the new infections last year were caused by using dirty needles for injections, the bureau reported.

Currently, 176 registered NGOs are working to control HIV/AIDS in Yunnan.

Luo Zhi, president of Yundi Harm Reduction Network, said the NGO is welcomed by HIV/AIDS patients and carriers because it provides free treatment and because its volunteers are former drug addicts who sympathize with patients.

"When the patients know we are going to help them instead of control them, they show a stronger will to be treated or receive clean syringes," Luo said.

Duo Yun, director of the HIV/AIDS Asia Regional Program's Yunnan Office, said one of her 31 branches across the province received 40,000 yuan in funding from the Yunnan Department of Science and Technology to prevent the spread of the disease among "underground prostitutes" in three counties.

The office is also working to prevent the spread of the disease across Yunnan's borders. It asks volunteers to hand out condoms, education material and clean needles.

"The cross-border prevention is a headache for the government because of diplomatic concerns if it's not handled properly. However, an NGO like ours can do that because all the work is done by volunteers," Duo said.

In 2011, the Yundi Network recruited 20 volunteers from Vietnam and Myanmar to educate prostitutes about using condoms. It set up two branches in Kokang municipality in northern Myanmar to train locals on how they could prevent the spread of the disease.

The Kunming health bureau said it has placed anti-AIDS advertisements on all 2,540 buses in the city. Subsidies for AIDS prevention will increase by 15 percent to 10 million yuan for Honghe Hani and Yi autonomous prefecture, Wenshan Zhuang and Miao autonomous prefecture, Dali Bai autonomous prefecture and the city of Lincang.

This year, the province will spend 5 million yuan to buy services from NGOs in healthcare consultations, sex education and assistance for virus carriers and patients.

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(China Daily USA 02/21/2014 page4)