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Tuesday, 26 November, 2002, 12:59 GMT
China's rural Aids victims
Hu Zeying (right) and her ill son, Baifang
Aids is killing and impoverishing whole families

The farmer's wife, Hu Zeying, is 66-years-old.

She wears a faded blue cotton jacket and her face is streaked with tears.

I met her in her one-storey brick house in Anhui province in eastern China.

Her eldest son died of an Aids-related infection three months ago. Now her second son, Baifang, lies racked with fever, barely able to talk.

He is suffering powerful fevers and diarrhoea. He says he longs to die.

Baifang contracted HIV when he sold his blood plasma to a commercial dealer at a government-run clinic. It was easy money, but the needles were filthy.

In this poor village, many of the young men did the same, and now, HIV is running rampant through the community.

Mounting debts

Mrs Hu has the barest understanding of HIV. She does not know there is no cure. She has never heard of anti-retroviral drugs.

She tells me she has spent her life savings on glucose drips and aspirin for her sons. Now, her meagre resources are gone.

Nobody is tending her tiny scrap of land and the family is sinking deeper and deeper into debt.

In China's poor villages, the state's response to HIV is non-existent and here, the disease doesn't just kill its victims - it impoverishes them too.

The village has one health worker. He says eight villagers have died from Aids in the last six months. A quarter of the village's population may be HIV positive.

He has no anti-Aids drugs and no training. Handing out a few leaflets is the sum of his prevention work.

At China's top Aids clinic in Beijing, treatment is reserved for the wealthy few. Up-to-date Aids drugs cost five times the salary of a Chinese worker and the patient must pay.

In China HIV/Aids is going to kill millions of people. That much is already clear.

There are some signs that the central government in Beijing is waking up to the danger, but Aids education and prevention across this vast country has even now barely begun.


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21 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
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