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Last Updated: Monday, 12 July, 2004, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
'We can learn so much from others'
Dong Ruixiang
Dong Ruixiang is the ActionAid China HIV/Aids coordinator. He is attending this week's 15th international Aids conference in Bangkok and wrote this diary about the opening weekend.

Last December China's Premier, Wen Jiabao visited Aids patients in hospital in Beijing and vice premier Madam Wu Yi visited villagers in Henan Province to meet groups of HIV positive people.

In the 1990s, thousands contracted HIV in Henan following unsafe commercial plasma and blood donations.

These visits were very important. They signalled a high level change in attitude about HIV/Aids. Previously nobody talked about HIV/Aids.

On Saturday 10 July, on the eve of the Bangkok Aids conference, our premier wrote an article about the seriousness of the epidemic for every major Chinese newspaper.

I found that very heartening news. It proves that China has taken significant steps forward in acknowledging that we have a problem.

Good policies

It is an opportunity not only to learn, but also to make important links with people facing the same problems in other countries.
The government has put into place excellent policies at national level. Now we must translate policies into practice.

We must work hard at regional and local levels of government. Too often local officials lack understanding of how important it is to be open about the epidemic, and to ensure that people living with HIV and Aids are not discriminated against.

Transparency about the epidemic is vital. UNAIDS has just told us that China saw a sharp increase in HIV infections last year, with every province now affected.

Without urgent effective action it is estimated that 10 million people could be infected by 2010.

Even though national prevalence rates appear low, a closer look at the figures shows that some provinces are suffering very badly, as are several distinct groups.

Activitists

I came to Bangkok with five partners from across China. Two are HIV positive, all of them represent different faces of the epidemic and they are all pioneers

Li Dang runs a school for Aids orphans. Wang Hongli works with HIV positive people who contracted HIV from dirty needles and also with minority groups of people, including Chinese Muslims.

I've not seen such a wide range of views expressed before in such a public way.
Sun Gaojie works with men who have sex with men. Kang Hui is a positive activist.

Ren Guoliang comes from the northern Shangxi province and works with vulnerable groups of people. (Not all names are real).

For our small group of activists, the sheer number of Aids campaigners at the conference is astounding.

It is an opportunity not only to learn, but also to make important links with people facing the same problems in other countries.

Wang Hongli was fascinated to discover that he faces similar problems with activists from Pakistan and hopes to keep up contact with them.

Wider perspective

Bangkok has given positive people and those working on HIV/Aids in China an opportunity to see the wide range of work that is going on.

We will learn from the experiences not only of the host nation, Thailand but also from colleagues as far away as southern Africa.

To join such a conference encourages us all in our future work.

Some of my compatriots felt empowered to use their real names at the conference with fellow delegates.

I hope the day will soon come when they feel they can do the same in China.

The openness of Thai activists and others is invigorating. I've not seen such a wide range of views expressed before in such a public way.

Li Dang, a young idealistic campaigner, is anxious that local Chinese government officials can learn lessons from the Thai and international experience.

There are around 200 official Chinese delegates and others here with non governmental organisations.

Support vital

Li Dang is hoping that local government will give him the same type of support that he sees some local politicians giving in Thailand.

We know we have a long way to go in changing conceptions and attitudes in China. But we have started to hope. We are seeing some successes already.

In the coming years we are looking forward to China and its people treating HIV and Aids as the serious social, economic and development problem that it is - and that people living with HIV and Aids be treated with dignity and respect.




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