A prominent South African AIDS activist has said the stigma of having
AIDS in China is leading to needless deaths and that more outspoken
advocates are needed. But, as Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing,
Chinese authorities have a habit of silencing activists.
South African activist Edwin Cameron told journalists Thursday people were dying in China because of the stigma of HIV.
said the fear of being discovered as infected was discouraging people
from getting tested and receiving treatment.
"It continues to seem
appalling to me that people should be dying of a medically manageable
and entirely treatable condition," he said.
Cameron was in China at the invitation of the Chinese government and the United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS.
recent United Nations supported survey revealed half of Chinese polled
would be unwilling to have a meal with an HIV-infected person. Nearly
a third said HIV positive children should not be allowed in public
Cameron, who is himself infected with HIV, said he
encouraged AIDS activists in China to be more outspoken to raise
awareness, especially those living with HIV.
"I think that the
involvement of people with AIDS in North America 20 years ago
changed that whole continent's understanding of AIDS," he said. "That
shift has yet to occur in China. And, I think the shift can only occur
with the involvement of people with AIDS and HIV who are speaking for
Cameron is a Supreme Court Justice in South Africa
and was careful to say he was not encouraging protests against the
Activists who Chinese authorities consider too outspoken are threatened, beaten, and sometimes imprisoned.
this year a well-known Chinese dissident and AIDS activist, Hu Jia, was
sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail on vague charges of
The Chinese government has in recent years been
raising awareness and education about AIDS after years of denying the
country had a problem.
Cameron applauded the Chinese government
for passing laws against discrimination and giving free antiviral drug
treatment to AIDS patients. But, he said the free medical care needed
to be expanded to cover infections brought on by HIV.
the AIDS-defining infections," said Cameron. "And, the antibiotics that
you need are very expensive but you've got to pay for them yourself in
China. So, the situation is dire and money is definitely a problem"
There are an estimated 700,000 people infected with HIV in China but most of them are not aware of it.
say that number may be low and that up to 50 million Chinese are at
risk of contracting the disease because they engage in high-risk
behavior such as drug use and prostitution.