PRC's AIDS Education; Teaching Them Young
Services, Ma Guihua Women'S Features, Manila Bulletin
SICHUAN Province - ''I used to view AIDS as a disease unique to western countries, and very far removed from us,'' says Zhu Hongxia, a 17-yearold student in Fushun in south west China's Sichuan Province. ''But now I know it is no longer that far.''
Hongxia and other students in this remote mountainous county have changed their views about the disease thanks to an AIDS Prevention Education Project, which was launched in the region by UNICEF two years ago.
According to Liu Kangmai, Director, Department of Health Education and Information Communication, HIV infection is spreading at an annual rate of 30 per cent. The Department, which works under the National Centre for AIDS Prevention and Control, also put the number of HIV carriers at approximately over 500,000 at the end of last year.
With such increasing numbers, Kangmai believes that educating youngsters about HIV and AIDS prevention is crucial. "Young people in China have become more tolerant about early sex and sex outside marriage. Yet, they have little knowledge about safe sex," he says.
The conventional target for spreading awareness about HIV and AIDS so far in China has been limited to the so-called 'highrisk behavior groups' and has ignored the general population. "Leaving young people ignorant about HIV/AIDS prevention and safe sex can be disastrous both for them as individuals and for society at large," warns Kangmai.
A nation-wide survey on education amongst adolescents conducted by the China Reproductive Health Education Society last year indicates that while Chinese children enter sexual maturity a year earlier than they did ten years ago, 84 per cent of them "by and large do not have knowledge about sex". Therefore, Kangmai says, "It is more important to strengthen education on HIV/AIDS prevention amongst this segment before the situation turns disastrous."
UNICEF and the Provincial Government of Sichuan chose Fushun as a pilot county to start the school-based HIV/AIDS prevention education project in 1998 because of its population density (it has a population of 1.23 million and ranks third in population density in the Sichuan province). Moreover, it is also adjacent to Yunnan, the province with the highest concentration of HIV infections in China.
According to Yang Hongchun, the deputy head of Fushun, with improved accessibility between the two counties and greater movement of people between the two, the number of drug addicts in Fushun is on the increase and there have also been a number of reported cases of HIV/AIDS.
Statistics point to the necessity of such education in a more compelling manner. By the end of 1999, 79 per cent of the HIV carriers in China were between the age of 20 and 40 years while 9. …