Before going to China, I had to get an HIV test. If the results had been positive, I wouldn’t be in China right now. Terrible, right? Funny thing is, before October 30th, 2009, if a Chinese person tried to get into the States with positive test results, s/he wouldn’t be able to get in, either.
China is one of the remaining six countries that bans foreigners with HIV/AIDS from entering the country. The ban may be lifted for the Shanghai expo which will take place next year, the China Daily reported today.
HIV/AIDS is a global issue, but it seems as though China and Africa have received the most attention from the global media outlets in the past few years.
For World AIDS Day, the Global Times published a feature on the current status of HIV/AIDS in China, which includes an update on issues relating to stigma and homosexuality in China. Also, the Xinhua News Agency, the Party’s central media mouthpiece, published a timeline of China’s improvement on these issues (you can find it in the Times feature).
Here are some of the important dates:
June 1985: China’s first AIDS case is reported when an Argentine-American traveler dies at Peking Union Medical College Hospital.
1990: China HIV/AIDS Prevention Committe established.
1998: HIV infections are reported in all 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, with drug users accounting for 60-70 percent of reported infections.
1999: The Ministry of Health unveils a new regulation concerning rights of HIV/AIDS citizens: their privacy should not be infringed and medical organizations should not refuse to treat them.
2003: On World AIDS Day, Premier Wen Jiabao becomes the first Chinese premeir to shake hands with an HIV-positive person.
2004: President Hu Jintao talks with AIDS patients in Beijing and shakes hands with them on November 30.
2006: The first HIV/AIDS Prevention Rule is put into practice on March 1.
When reading this, two things stood out for me: one, it is really shocking how quickly the disease spread in China (the mainland currently has an estimated 740,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, though only 319,877 cases have been recorded, according to the Ministry of Health), and two, I was dismayed at the fact that “shaking hands” (really, the act of touching) was still newsbreaking in 2004 – even though formal acts such as the handshake hold more weight in China than they do in the States.
And, even with all of the reform, the stigma present in Chinese culture and experienced by HIV/AIDS victims is still overwhelming and debilitating. Actually, the UNAIDS in Beijing keeps a statistical record of this. If you want to check it out, read the The China Stigma Index Report, which was released in 2009. Out of a survey of 2000 people, 48.2 percent of those interviewed feared that if their statuses were exposed, other people would not engage in physical contact with them. Perhaps more upsetting is that 49.4 percent feared that they would not be allowed to be near other people’s children.
As noted in Xinhua’s release, breaches of privacy are against China’s policy. However, the Index reported that ”One third of all respondents said that their status had been revealed to others without their permission.”
So, China still has a lot to deal with when it comes to HIV/AIDS. I don’t know how it can effectively deal with this crisis without also dealing with the stigma of homosexuality. My good friend here has a new boyfriend who is a student at the renowned Beijing Film Academy. Before meeting him, he had told me that he was “shy.” But, what I saw in this third-year amateur auteur was a frightened individual. And though my friend is more open about his sexual preferences than his partner, he, too, has to keep things under wraps in the dorm, lest some of the vocally homophobic male students on the floor discover his sexual identity.
So, as open as China wants to be to the “world,” that is, the international HIV/AIDS community, it still has internal issues of great magnitude.
But, before anyone begins to look to China for HIV/AIDS problems, make sure you look at your own country first. It wasn’t until this year that the United States ended its two-decade long discrimination against the world’s HIV/AIDS victims. Is “HIV/AIDS victim” synonymous with “irresponsible individual”? Anyway, on October 30th of this year, Obama signed the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Extension Act, lifting a 22-year ban on international HIV/AIDS victims, the Washington Post reported. So, rah-rah. Honestly, I’m not clapping any hands until I see some serious immigration reform and some federal- no, Obama - support of gay marriage.