Happy World AIDS Day! China’s golden boy and long-time Houston Rockets player Yao Ming has agreed to join the United Nation’s push to address discrimination among Chinese people towards those infected with HIV. The new awareness campaign follows the release of the first UNAIDS HIV/AIDS report in China last month, the results of which demonstrated the significant stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS in China’s medical field as well as the general population.
The UN campaign, which is organized in coalition with China’s Health Ministry, features Yao Ming accompanied by both HIV+ and HIV- fans in posters and videos to be displayed in some of China’s biggest cities.
The NBA star, who has had his hand in HIV/AIDS awareness since he invited children orphaned due to the AIDS virus to this summer’s Olympics, will help garner much-needed attention for a mounting problem in China.
In the campaign, Yao Ming is encouraging people in China and all over the world to help change attitudes and stop stigma and discrimination, “Like all of us, my friends who are living with HIV should have the opportunity to live full and dignified lives.”
Yu Xuan, an AIDS activist in China and one of the primary advocates for the awareness program, saw the need for documenting AIDS-related discrimination in Chinese society, citing examples of friends who had been denied medical treatment or entrance into social events due to being HIV+.
With the combined participation of the Ministry of Health, UNAIDS, and Yao Ming, the new campaign promises to chip away at preexisting notions in Chinese society concerning those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Many of these prejudices are mirrored in Western societies, including refusal of health services, rejection from family and friends, and enough hostility to force HIV+ people out of work and school.
Building understanding and care from society as a whole for people living with HIV, together with eliminating discrimination, are key elements of the AIDS response,” Huang Jiefu, China’s vice minister of health, said in the statement.
The campaign will also see more than 30,000 posters distributed across China, the statement said.
This new campaign is revolutionary in China as HIV/AIDS-related issues have never been publicized, or even researched, in such a public fashion. Due to the limited HIV awareness among China’s majority, there remain many preconceptions which fuel sentiments of fear and anger toward those living with the disease.
A Reuters article recently highlighted China’s predicament:
China has long faced a problem in tackling a disease which officials once refused to acknowledge, and where for many people taboos surrounding sex remain strong, limiting public or even private discussion.
Deputy Chinese Health Minister Huang Jeifu said the government would work harder to address issues related to AIDS stigma and ignorance, but admitted it would be difficult.
“The biggest obstacle is that there is not enough education or publicity about AIDS. Society does not know enough about the disease, and people think you can get it just from touch, talking, shaking hands or eating together,” Huang said. “This is a huge problem.”
Though, despite the experiences of Yu and countless other Chinese citizens, the Vice Minister of Health reminded that HIV/AIDS education had existed previous to this particular campaign:
Dr Jiefu commented, “China has always made anti-discrimination education an important part of its response to AIDS. The Chinese government is committed to continuing to work together with the international community, including UNAIDS, and to doing more to eliminate discrimination.”
In that sense, this campaign is different because it chooses to focus on celebrity might and commercial appeal to stimulate discussion, rather than hard facts to sway the general public into taking a more accepting view towards HIV/AIDS individuals. Hey, whatever works, right?
Hopefully this pioneering education/publicity effort will begin to chip away at the social stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS in modern China. We’re hoping Yao Ming’s wide appeal in this country is enough to bolster the efforts of the government and UNAIDS – but either way, we’re glad they’re all cooperating, making a commendable effort to bringing awareness to one of the most important problems facing China today.