Photo by ApaNyangku Brunei
In China, paranoia is never too far away, but now an anxious bunch are not even letting medical diagnoses put their minds at rest. BBC News’ Chris Hogg reported that hundreds of people in China believe they may have a “new disease with HIV-like symptoms”, while doctors claim this is all in the mind.
One patient remained convinced he was HIV positive having slept with a prostitute, despite the seven HIV tests that all attested to the opposite. He claimed the doctors at Shanghai’s Pasteur Institute weren’t willing to listen to him, telling him instead that his extreme guilt or anxiety over having had sex with a prostitute was affecting his immune system.
For all its stubbornness, HIV phobia has not sprung out of just anywhere. Fueling the patients’ mistrust of their doctors is China’s long track record of covering up fatal diseases (remember SARS?). More tragically, AIDS is certainly spreading throughout the country: the government says 700,000 people in China are living with HIV, with around 50,000 new infections occurring every year. Meanwhile, knowledge of the disease’s prevention, especially in rural areas, remains incredibly low.
Not helping these patients’ refusal to accept the all-clear, nor attempts to curtail the actual spread of the deadly disease, is the fact that sex education is not one of China’s fortes. Sex remains a cultural and social taboo, allowing the notorious crackdown against online porn to intensify, and cases of teenage pregnancies to be confused with weight gain. A well-informed discussion of sexual matters is slow to catch up with China’s increasingly liberal younger generations.
In attempts to maintain a harmonious society, the government is working in a positive direction to curb the spread of the disease, such as by running educational campaigns to inform high-risk groups, such as sex workers. But it will take a wider awareness, and so improved sex education, before the HIV-negative patient emerges from his motel room with nothing to fear.