'Never abandon, never give up’: ILO film helps China’s migrant workers challenge AIDS stigma

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'Never abandon, never give up’: ILO film helps China’s migrant workers challenge AIDS stigma

30 April 2009

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Wang Baoqiang
Wang Baoqiang, star actor and former migrant construction worker is now a spokesperson for the ILO HIV/AIDS project in China Credit: courtesy of ILO

Zhang Xiao Hu is one of China’s estimated 200 million migrant workers. He is also one of the stars of ‘Never abandon, never give up’, a short Charlie Chaplin-style film aimed at reducing HIV stigma and promoting condom use among the country’s migrant workers. Beginning on 4 May, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Mega-info Media, the company which runs China’s national railway station television network, will begin screening the film in 500 stations in 450 cities across the country. Over a three month period, 40 million people will have an opportunity to see the film.

In the film Zhang plays a construction worker stigmatized because he is living with HIV. This mirrors his real life situation as he is China’s first internal migrant worker to speak out publicly about his HIV status and has suffered stigma in the past from colleagues. As he says, “No one wanted to work with me, eat with me or share a dormitory.”

Leading filmmaker Gu Changwei

Never abandon, never give up’ is produced and directed for the ILO by Gu Changwei, a winner at the 2005 Berlin Film Festival and considered one of the leading filmmakers working in China today. Established star Wang Baoqiang, who is now serving as a spokesperson for the ILO HIV/AIDS project in China, also takes a lead role in the movie. He befriends Zhang Xiao Hu at his workplace and uses his celebrity persona to encourage his colleagues to cast aside their prejudices.

‘Hometown Fellows’ campaign

The project forms part of the ‘Hometown Fellows’ campaign where the ILO, in partnership with the Ministry of Labour, employer and worker bodies, and the State Council AIDS Working Committee Organization is collaborating with 19 large-scale enterprises in construction, mining and transport sectors in China’s provinces most affected by HIV. Although overall prevalence of the virus is relatively low in China (UNAIDS reported a 0.1% prevalence in 2008), there are pockets of high infection among specific populations and in some localities. With support from grass roots non-governmental organizations, the ILO is carrying out a comprehensive, multi-channel behaviour change programme for 190,350 internal migrant workers in Guangdong, Yunnan and Anhui provinces.

According to Constance Thomas, Director of the ILO in China, partnering with authorities on such projects, “helps us reach out to the workers for social protection to ensure their occupational safety and health…They do have the right to work in China and they have the right not to be discriminated against.”

The ‘Hometown Fellows’ project is intended to address high HIV-related stigma and low condom use among migrants and taps into powerful social networks among migrant workers who often move from rural areas and work together in large cities throughout China.

Formative research among the migrants shows a strong social bond based on common provincial origin that is potentially influential on attitudes and behaviour. This is in sharp contrast to migrant worker perceptions of health officials, company management and receiving communities, where there is, typically, considerable distrust and a sense of alienation.

The ILO behaviour change communication strategy has two tiers. Firstly, it has developed a range of communication tools based on the hometown fellowship concept where key message are delivered through migrant voices. Never abandon, never give up forms part of this intervention.


This movie is an excellent production which can help to reduce stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV far beyond the labour sector. It addresses not only stigma related to HIV, but also vulnerabilities linked with living at the margins of society.

Dr Bernhard Schwartlander, UNAIDS Country Coordinator in China

Secondly, working through enterprise structures, the programme taps into existing migrant social networks to deliver peer education in the workplace, dormitories and nearby entertainment areas. This peer education is reinforced through group training in enterprises as well as targeted messages delivered through company owned television and radio channels.

Dr Bernhard Schwartlander, UNAIDS Country Coordinator in China applauds this production, "This movie is an excellent production which can help to reduce stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV far beyond the labour sector." He added, "It addresses not only stigma related to HIV, but also vulnerabilities linked with living at the margins of society."

Migrant workers make up some 15% of the total Chinese population according to official estimates and they are considered vulnerable to HIV due to challenging social conditions, low HIV knowledge and lack of access to quality health services.