Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Transnational Origin of a Local Response to HIV/AIDS in Henan Province

Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Transnational Origin of a Local Response to HIV/AIDS in Henan Province

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)

The social, political, arid epidemiological context of tKe mobilisation

TKe commercial blood collections at tKe source of tKe epidemic

In the 1980s and 1990s, many villagers in Henan Province as well as other provinces (Anhui, Hubei, Hebei et al.), under the twin pressures of poverty and official exhortation, sold their blood at collection points organised by the local authorities.(l) These authorities, who paid them 50 yuan for each donation, viewed such measures as a way of enriching the peasants while also meeting the need for blood, the importation of which had been forbidden since 1985, largely out of fear of HIV.<2) Massive numbers of poor villagers turned out to give their blood several times a week in exchange for a pittance that enabled them to feed their families, pay their taxes, or provide for their children's education. However, these blood collections were carried out under minimal sanitary conditions. The syringes were reused, there was no system for tracing the blood bags, and when all the blood had been mixed together and put through a centrifuge to extract the plasma, it was re-injected into the donors. This blood was then sold on to the provincial hospitals and clinics, or even beyond, without any testing for the presence of HIV

Despite the fact that the presence of HIV in the blood collected in this way was discovered by the Henan authorities in 1995, and the villagers themselves were astonished at the increasing number of deaths and illnesses around them (some even questioning local officials about the prevalence of this "unknown" disease<3)), the provincial and local authorities decided to conceal the truth, and knowingly continued with the profitable trade in blood at the expense of the health of millions of Chinese.

In 1996, Gao Yaojie, a gynaecologist working in a hospital in Zhenzhou, the provincial capital of Henan, discovered HIV in a peasant woman who had given blood several years earlier at a rural collection point. Aware that this case represented the tip of an iceberg, Dr. Gao decided to launch a preventive campaign at her own expense, using explanatory leaflets and a book that she compiled, in order to inform as many Henan residents as possible of the risks they were running through their paid blood donations. At the same time, she also gave financial support to several villagers and orphans affected by the disease.(4) Yet the Henan authorities maintained their silence, denying the presence of AIDS in their province, and trying by all possible means to prevent Dr. Gao and her team of helpers from continuing with their preventive work in Henan, and specially from mentioning the situation in public.<5)

It was particularly after the year 2000 that a certain amount of information about the HIV/AIDS situation in Henan Province came to light. In October of that year, Dr. Gui Xian revealed that out of the 155 blood samples he had secretly collected in Shangcai County, where the sale of blood had become commonplace, 65 percent had tested positive for HIV. Also, China News Weekly revealed that in several villages in that county there were families who had lost members to AIDS. For its part, the international press revealed that a doctor from Beijing, who had inspected a number of rural hospitals in Henan without permission, had discovered an abnormally high number of HIV infections/6* and that the village of Wenlou in Shangcai County had experienced 800 deaths from AIDS in two years.<7)

International governmental organisations and NGOs, as well as some prominent figures in Chinese medical circles and other concerned groups, paid close attention and alerted the central and provincial authorities to the urgent need to respond to the situation in Henan if they did not wish to face an HIV/AIDS epidemic spreading throughout the whole of China. At the beginning of August 2001, in order to clarify the situation in Henan, the central government sent in a team from its working group on the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. …

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