In an effort to raise awareness during World AIDS Day, Beijing Aizhixing Institute of Health Education Director Wan Yanhai spoke to around 35 students about AIDS in China at Dwight Hall Monday.
Yanhai, whose leadership in AIDS advocacy resulted in his 2002 detainment by the Chinese government, said in his speech that HIV-infected Chinese citizens face unfair obstacles in obtaining treatment, including lack of funding and cultural biases that prevent AIDS education.
The talk, which was sponsored by Yale AIDS Watch, or YAW, was part of the group’s efforts to highlight the global fight against AIDS.
YAW Co-Coordinator David Steinberg ’05 said YAW uses communication technologies to “take on the world” of the AIDS epidemic. Yanhai also used technology in his advocacy efforts — he said he established the first AIDS telephone hot line in China and the first Web site with HIV and AIDS information for people in China.
While YAW members have the freedom to spread knowledge about AIDS through the Internet, Yanhai endured four weeks of detainment for his AIDS advocacy. Yanhai said he was detained by government authorities in August 2002 for e-mailing a classified Chinese government document to other AIDS advocacy organizations around the world. Yanhai said the document contained information about HIV-infected patients in government clinics.
“Whether or not [the] government could provide assistance, [it] should tell people [about HIV-infected transfusion blood],” Yanhai said. “[The government] tells the news that 40,000 people are infected with HIV, but the number [of infected people] in a single province could be 10 times that.”
Yanhai said China’s August 2001 national action plan on AIDS aspired to help 50 percent of Chinese citizens infected with HIV to get treatment.
“But in reality, 400 people received treatment,” Yanhai said.
He also said the Chinese Ministry of Health allots $120,000 for AIDS services for its population of over one billion people.
Yanhai said the government is not the only obstacle to spreading AIDS awareness in China.
“They don’t talk about the condom in middle school, and that’s a big issue,” Yanhai said. “If China could use a family planning system, it could really help, but it does force women to have an abortion, so the relations between family planning clinics and communities is not good.”
Yanhai said that because there is no teaching resource support from the government, HIV-infected people and those at risk to receive HIV-infected blood through transfusions have founded their own teaching networks.
“There are hot lines and Web sites to organize [AIDS] training and education programs,” Yanhai said. “Other people with AIDS in the cities have started to organize for themselves — There are some religious groups from Hong Kong, but in general, the presence of religious organizations is weak.”
Yanhai, who worked at the Yale-China Association before coming to Yale in August as a Yale World Fellow, will remain at the University until the end of December before returning to China. He said he has met with many American AIDS advocacy organizations while in the United States.
YAW Co-Coordinator Matt Wilson ’05 said he hopes students will become more involved with AIDS on the Yale campus and support Yanhai’s perspective that those in an AIDS crisis “need help from everybody.”
“We can work on many levels because it’s such a huge problem,” Wilson said. “YAW allows people to choose their contribution. [They] can work with global issues or local issues and make a difference in New Haven.”
YAW member Alex Reicher ’06 said YAW contacted a Tanzanian AIDS shelter by e-mail. YAW collected 30 pounds of clothing needed at the shelter, Reicher said.
Wilson said the group created informational brochures for the Zambia Anti-AIDS Students’ Club.
“That’s something they can’t do, and they need the brochures to educate people around them about AIDS,” Wilson said.
Steinberg said the use of students’ skills and their access to technological resources can have a huge impact.
“We take it for granted that we can open Microsoft Word and create something like that,” Steinberg said.
Reicher said some YAW members will teach AIDS education overseas this spring break.
“Some people think AIDS is a political issue, but we maintain a goal-based ideology,” Steinberg said. “We’re willing to do what it takes to influence change.”