Chinese AIDS activists crash event, seek more help

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Associated Press

Posted on December 1, 2009 at 8:37 AM

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese activists angry over AIDS infections caused by tainted blood infusions took over an official World AIDS Day event Tuesday in Beijing, demanding more government recognition and help.

Wearing white face masks scrawled with the words "Infected blood transfusions causes AIDS," the 20 or so activists mounted the stage set up by China's Red Cross and spoke through tears.

"Our fight for free treatment has continued for the past eight years with no luck," one protester, Liu Xiurong, said afterward.

The HIV virus that causes AIDS gained a foothold in China largely due to unsanitary blood plasma-buying schemes and tainted transfusions in hospitals.

AIDS was the top killer among infectious diseases in China for the first time last year. By the end of October, the number of Chinese confirmed with HIV-AIDS was 319,877, according to China's Health Ministry. Health Minister Chen Zhu said the actual level of infections is probably closer to 740,000.

Liu, from the northeastern city of Harbin, said her son became infected with the HIV virus by tainted plasma several years ago. She received compensation from the Shanghai company that supplied the blood, but the money wasn't enough for medical costs.

"The money we got is not even close to the amount that we need to live. My son still needs treatment," she told Associated Press Television News.

"Now that we've put ourselves out there, there is a chance that we'll be beaten or arrested in the future," Liu said. "It's OK because we have nothing left to lose."

The outburst at a Beijing railway station came as volunteers gave passengers free pamphlets on AIDS prevention and reducing social stigma as part of a China's Red Cross campaign.

The event was aimed in particular at migrant workers who crisscross China in search of jobs.

On Monday, President Hu Jintao publicly pledged to mobilize society in tackling China's growing AIDS problem. State broadcaster China Central Television showed footage of Hu talking through a videophone to AIDS patients, doctors and researchers at a Beijing hospital.

Globally, there were about 33.4 million people with HIV last year, according to UNAIDS in a report issued last week. About 4.7 million were in the Asia-Pacific region.

There were about 350,000 new infections last year across the Asia-Pacific region.

In Myanmar, about 120 people living with AIDS and HIV gathered at the headquarters of the opposition party led by detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The event was organized "to give encouragement to the patients that they are not alone," said Phyu Phyu Thin, a prominent AIDS activist and opposition party member.

Though officials say Myanmar has 240,000 HIV/AIDS victims, the figure is much higher due to the country's poor health care system, said Phyu. About 25,000 HIV/AIDS deaths occur every year there.

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Associated Press writers Margie Mason in Hanoi, Vietnam, and Chi-Chi Zhang in Beijing contributed to this report.

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