Chinese AIDS Choir Battles Discrimination Amid Chorus of Protest

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Members of the AIDS Anti-Discrimination Choir sing songs to raise awareness about HIV in Beijing, Nov. 26, 2013.
Members of the AIDS Anti-Discrimination Choir sing songs to raise awareness about HIV in Beijing, Nov. 26, 2013.

Activists living with HIV have converged on China's capital ahead of World AIDS Day, forming a choir to fight social discrimination through music and staging a protest outside the health ministry, activists said on Tuesday.

Nearly 200 protesters gathered outside the health ministry on Monday and Tuesday to call for the payment of social assistance and medical benefits pledged by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, they said.

"There were nearly 200 of us, and we wanted an explanation," a protester surnamed Li said after taking part in the health ministry protest. "They should compensate us."

"There were police there ... and they blocked the gates of the ministry with two large buses," she said.

Many Chinese living with HIV are calling for compensation and healthcare payouts after they were infected by tainted blood transfusions linked to blood-selling schemes in poverty-stricken rural areas.

Li said officials from across China were hurrying to Beijing to escort home AIDS petitioners and activists ahead of World AIDS Day on Friday.

"Local governments from all over are sending interceptors," she said. "A lot of people will probably be escorted back home tomorrow."

Meanwhile, members of the AIDS Anti-Discrimination Choir arrived in Beijing this week to rehearse public performances on university campuses, and at nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and companies, according to social media posts and choir members.

"Our aim is very simple," a choir member surnamed Chen said. "We want to use song to get across the message to the general public that we who [live with HIV] are the same as normal people."

"We are also singing with a theme of anti-discrimination," she said.

Soloist detained

A second choir member surnamed Huang said the group was rehearsing for a number of performances in honor of World AIDS Day.

"We are in rehearsals, and we have decided to start singing in universities and parks in the next couple of days," Huang said, adding that not all the singers had reached the capital.

"We had a soloist who was detained by the police, who wouldn't let her travel to Beijing," she said. "She is trying to think of a way to make it here."

She said the concerts were aimed at raising public awareness of AIDS patients and people living with HIV.

"We want to tell our stories ... and we want to show the positive side of [living with HIV]," she said.

"We want to call on society not to discriminate against people with AIDS."

Huang, who spoke from the scene of an AIDS protest outside the health ministry on Tuesday, said the crowd there was growing.

"I think there are more than 160 people here, but that's not a final figure," she said.

Demanding assistance

China's AIDS petitioners want local authorities to implement the provisions in the central government's "Document No. 26," which requires local governments to extend assistance to children infected with HIV and to AIDS orphans whose parents had already died of the disease.

Document No. 26 stipulates that local governments pay a basic living allowance of 600 yuan (about U.S. $100) per month to AIDS patients, with further subsidies for children and AIDS orphans.

But many petitioners contacted by RFA said they were receiving subsidies of just 200 yuan (about U.S. $30) per month, and some said they had received nothing at all.

Some AIDS patients have tried unsuccessfully to sue the local authorities for failing to deliver promised treatment packages and adequate compensation after they were infected via tainted blood supplies in local hospitals and clinics.

Activists estimate that at least 100,000 people in Henan have been infected with HIV during the blood-selling schemes run by local governments, which bought blood donations from impoverished rural residents, but also took a cut of the proceeds.

Collectors paid villagers to give their blood, pooled it without testing for HIV or any other infections, extracted the valuable plasma and then re-injected the blood back into those who sold it. Around 40,000 of them have now died of AIDS, leaving around 60,000 still living with HIV.

Retired gynecologist and former medical professor Gao Yaojie, currently living in the United States, says the majority of new HIV infections come from a network of thousands of blood-selling and transfusion clinics which are still operating in poorer regions of the country.

Gao, 85, fled China in 2009 in order to publish work relating to the scandal of HIV-infected blood transfusions and the practice of blood-selling in poverty-stricken rural areas.

Chinese health authorities said the number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the country stood at around 780,000 at the end of 2011, a figure Gao said was closer to 10 million.

Gao warned last year that there are currently more than 10,000 blood-selling stations across China, in all regions of the country, and that only around 10 percent of HIV infections are transmitted through sex.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Qiao Long for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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