Fighting a dreaded disease

Updated: 2012-12-01 07:49

By Li Yang (China Daily)

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Government should join hands with NGOs to use their experience and wide reach to check the spread of HIV/AIDS

Vice-Premier Li Keqiang has promised to simplify the registration process of non-governmental organizations fighting HIV/AIDS and make it easier for them to collaborate with the government to combat the dreaded disease.

According to the Ministry of Health, by the end of October, China had reported 492,191 HIV/AIDS cases on the mainland. The number is increasing fast at about 12.7 percent year-on-year in 2012. Of them, 16,131 new cases of HIV infection were reported among people aged above 50 years from January to October, an increase of 20.2 percent year-on-year, and the number of new cases among those aged between 15 and 24 was 9,514, up 12.8 percent year-on-year. Also, the number of AIDS-related deaths rose by 8.6 percent.

Although every county now has the capability to detect HIV and a network covering the mainland's 2,966 counties for free consultation and voluntary detection has been established, the fight against the virus remains difficult in the world's most populous country.

The State Council has issued an action plan for the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) for prevention of the disease and treatment of HIV/AIDS patients, vowing to reduce the number of new cases in 2015 by 25 percent and the death rate by 30 percent from the 2010 figures.

To realize these goals, the government and medical authorities have to reach out to NGOs.

Under China's registration system, NGOs must find a governmental organ for supervision. And though about 1,000 NGOs are engaged in the fight against HIV/AIDS, most of them are not registered and function "outside the law". Without registration, an NGO cannot open a bank account to collect donations. Besides, the absence of legal identity also makes it difficult for an NGO to function properly and fulfill its goals.

Speaking days before the 25th World AIDS Day, which falls on Dec 1, Li Keqiang responded to these dilemmas and acknowledged the indispensable role played by NGOs in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The vice-premier vowed to simplify the registration process for NGOs fighting HIV/AIDS and encouraged the government to "buy" their services and reduce their taxes to overcome the grave challenge posed by the disease.

A collaboration between the government and NGOs will allow the two sides to draw on each other's strength. Government funds will provide the cash-thirsty NGOs with concrete financial support and their collaboration will improve the civil organizations' expertise and professional capacity to better combat the disease. In return, the wide reach and flexibility of NGOs will help fill the emptiness created by the relatively static official detection and consultation centers.

An open and collaborative environment for NGOs will help increase people's awareness of prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. International experience shows the better informed the public is, the less the chances are of HIV spreading.

Thanks to the 10-year publicity campaign to prevent pre-natal HIV transmission by medical agencies in China, the rate of mother-to-child transmission dropped to 7.4 percent from 34.8 percent in 2007.

Unprotected sexual intercourse is the most common way HIV transmitted in China. Among the new cases in the first 10 months of the year, as many as 84.9 percent were transmitted through sexual intercourse - compared with 77.9 percent last year. Of these, 21.1 percent were male homosexuals, a sharp rise from the 15 percent last year.

There is, therefore, an urgent need to check the rising trend of HIV cases, for which NGOs have to be mobilized along with official medical agencies. Perhaps they should join hands to launch campaigns similar to the one against pre-natal HIV transmission - for example, publicizing the use of condoms - among the most susceptible groups.

A whopping 79.9 percent of the HIV/AIDS patients in the mainland are concentrated in nine provinces and autonomous regions with ethnic groups. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to encourage NGOs in other areas to help prevent and treat HIV/AIDS cases in these regions, because they help detect the cases early and provide timely treatment, which lowers the death rate by a big margin. But for that the central authorities have to allocate more funds and resources for the cause.

That an HIV/AIDS patient had to conceal his condition to undergo a lung surgery for malignant tumor in a Beijing hospital recently after being refused by two hospitals in Tianjin shows how important it is to disseminate scientific information among the public, especially doctors, some of whom seem to be living in ignorance.

Refusing treatment to an HIV/AIDS patient is against the law. But the two Tianjin hospitals, penalized later, still drove the patient away. It is thus important that doctors and nurses in hospitals across the country receive proper training in how to deal with HIV/AIDS patients professionally and safely.

Proactive treatment and well-targeted joint publicity campaigns by NGOs and official medical agencies can gradually remove the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. After all, NGOs have for long been playing an important role in the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS in many foreign countries.

By accepting NGOs as partners in the fight against HIV/AIDS, the government will not only benefit from their cooperation and cross-border communication network, but also attract more global charity, medicines and experience, and truly become a part of the worldwide struggle to eradicate the disease.

The author is a writer with China Daily. E-mail:

(China Daily 12/01/2012 page5)