Feature story

UNAIDS recognizes leaders in China’s AIDS response

17 September 2008

Three awardees of UNAIDS Award for Outstanding Contributions to the AIDS Response were presented by Dr Peter Piot (3rd from left). The three awardees are Prof. Li Xiguang (right), Executive Dean of Tsinghua University School of Journalism and Communication; Mr Serge Dumont (2nd left), UNAIDS Special Representative and Omnicon Group Inc. Senior Vice President and President Asia Pacific, and Yao Ming, Chinese Basketball icon (his manager on his behalf).

Progress in scaling up HIV prevention, treatment, care and support is underway in China thanks in part to the involvement of leaders from many different sectors of Chinese society in the AIDS response.

UNAIDS Executive Director Dr Peter Piot is acknowledging the contributions of nine such individuals during his official visit to China this week, 16-19 September, by presenting them with the UNAIDS’ “Award for Outstanding Contributions to the AIDS Response”.

Medals are awarded to Yao Ming, international Chinese basketball player, Serge Dumont, UNAIDS Special Representative and businessman, Li Xiguang, Executive Dean of Tsinghua University’s School of Journalism and Communication, Li Junru, Vice President of Central Party School, Doctor Xu Lianzhi from You’an Hospital, Doctors Ren Minghui, Hao Yang and Wu Zunyou with the Chinese Ministry of Health and Meng Lin, who is living with HIV and the head of the organization “Arc of Love”, which works for people living with HIV.

The awardees were chosen for their efforts to help stop the spread of HIV and to spur greater awareness of the epidemic in China, where an estimated 700,000 people are living with HIV in the country.

Dr Peter Piot, UNAIDS Executive Director, delivered an inauguration speech on Global and China’s AIDS epidemic and response at Global Health Forum in Tsinghua University, China.

Dr Piot is presenting the awards at several occasions throughout Beijing. The first ceremony was on 17 September at Tsinghua University, where he delivered the inaugural lecture for the university’s new Global Health Forum. Later the same day, Dr Piot presented the medal to Central Party School Vice President Li Junru following a lecture at the School on the role of leadership in China’s AIDS response.

Combating stigma in China, engaging more partners in the response

Yao Ming was recognized for his role in combating the stigma and discrimination faced by people living with HIV in China. A star player with the US National Basketball Association (NBA), Yao Ming has been a very important advocate for people living with HIV. In 2006, Yao featured in a PSA with HIV positive basketball icon Magic Johnson with key messages on stigma and discrimination. The PSA has been widely used in China and was used in the UNAIDS-International Olympic Committee (IOC) Olympic AIDS Campaign. Yao Ming also featured in the UNAIDS-IOC AIDS leaflet that accompanied all condoms distributed at the Beijing Olympics as part of that campaign.

“I am very honoured to receive this esteemed award for AIDS work,” said Yao Ming, who received his award by video. “Contributing to the fight against AIDS is something that I happily do as I believe that AIDS is one of the most important global problems. We can and we should all do something to stop the spread of AIDS and the discrimination of people living with HIV”.

Commenting on the athlete’s engagement, Dr Piot said, “I am really pleased that the AIDS response has the critical support of sports stars, the business community, media and academia alike. AIDS is so much more than a health issue and without the help of champions like the ones we honour today, we cannot be successful in stopping the spread of AIDS.”

HIV prevention remains a priority for China’s AIDS response. Reaching out with correct information on prevention is crucial and requires greater collaboration; from government and community organizations to private business and media.

Highlighting the role of the private sector, UNAIDS Special Representative Serge Dumont said, "There are many ways the business sector can contribute to a successful AIDS response. In particular, savvy approaches are required in a number of places around the world to help overcome the prevalent prejudices, which continue to affect people living with HIV".

A recent survey supported by UNAIDS found that 65% of the surveyed adult population were unwilling to live in the same household as a person living with HIV and nearly 50% thought mistakenly that HIV can be transmitted through a mosquito bite.

Commenting on his award, Professor Li Xiguang underscored media’s role in AIDS education. “Journalists can make an important difference on how people think about AIDS through good reporting,” he said. “False perceptions need to be overcome by communicating correct information in interesting and innovative ways.”

Throughout his engagements in China, Dr Piot commended the Chinese on their efforts and progress made in responding to AIDS, in particular around HIV prevention and antiretroviral treatment. But he emphasized AIDS is not yet over in any part of the world – including China – and called on leaders to scale up their efforts for a heightened response.