Supporting people living with HIV in China
26 April 2007
China is a country of expanding wealth, deep-rooted tradition, and honour, and is home to some of the world’s most famous landmarks. It is also a country which over the past few years has become increasingly affected by the AIDS epidemic.
In 2005 UNAIDS estimated that there were close to 650,000 people living with HIV in China, a country which has many factors that could lead to a rapid spread of the epidemic; high mobility, large-scale labour migration, high numbers of sex workers, low condom use, a large number of people who inject drugs, low overall awareness of AIDS as well as severe stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV.
“The Chinese government has increased the resources allocated to the response to AIDS in China significantly over the last four years,” said Joel Rehnstrom, UNAIDS’ Country Coordinator in China. “However, at the provincial level a lot still needs to be done. AIDS awareness is still much too low in the population and stigma and discrimination are serious problems that need to be dealt with,” he added.
The Beijing Ditan hospital, established in 1946, was one of the first hospitals to support people living with HIV in China and began providing antiretroviral treatment in 1999. This was also the year that the Red Ribbon Centre was established, to compliment the hospital’s work by providing care and support to people living with HIV.
“Ditan is a hospital specialized in infectious diseases and is one of China’s leading institutions on AIDS––so we have a duty to provide the best treatment and support we can,” said the General Secretary of the Red Ribbon Centre, Dr. Li Xingwang. “However there is still more we can do to improve HIV awareness in China and we call on medical professionals to join us in the response to AIDS. Starting with ourselves, we can work on eliminating the stigma around HIV in the medical community,” he added.
The Beijing Ditan hospital mainly receives patients from the Beijing municipality, however people from other provinces also come to the hospital to receive treatment. Many come because they have been refused entry into other hospitals or fear of disclosing their status in their local communities. The Red Ribbon Centre supports this policy and maintains an open door policy by welcoming anyone living with HIV seeking advice or support.
The Red Ribbon Centre is supported by the government and international organizations including UNAIDS. UNAIDS is also working with other partners in the country to engage positive networks and their members to help build capacity and raise awareness of the epidemic in China .
The centre provides a number of services including information, HIV testing and care, as well as psychological support training for volunteers and a legal aid system to support people living with HIV. It is a place where people living with HIV can communicate, network, and above all, be themselves without fear of stigma or discrimination.
“The Red Ribbon Centre provides a friendly and harmonious environment for us. We can talk openly here. We get up to date information and professional support and care––this is our family,” said one of the centre’s members.
The Red Ribbon Centre also engages in educating the general population through a journal called ‘Hand in Hand’ developed in collaboration with people living with HIV. The journal places particular emphasis on raising awareness among young people.
“It is important that we educate young people in China, which is why we have provided training to more than 600 university students and hosted 13 health education activities in primary and middle schools,” said Dr. Li Xingwang.
China has made significant progress in scaling up its action on AIDS––increasing harm reduction programmes and providing treatment, care and support to people living with HIV. But there is still much to be done, particularly in the provinces. The Ditan hospital and the Red Ribbon Centre are important examples of what can be achieved and their treatment, support and education programmes are important initiatives in the country’s response to AIDS.
More information on China
Visit UNAIDS China Website