In an exclusive interview with VOA on World AIDS Day, Dr. Gao said that Chinese President Hu Jintao is trying to show that the leadership is concerned about the AIDS situation by visiting AIDS patients, "but what is going on at the local level is a completely different story, and it is beyond my description." She said that the so-called "black blood stations" are operating at night in the Yanggu, Xinxian, and Yuncheng counties in Henan province. In a separate interview with VOA, a provincial government spokesman denied that there are problems in Henan's AIDS-stricken villages, and said that death rates among AIDS victims have fallen by 8 percent and that the annual income per villager has increased by $65 this year.
Dr. Gao, 77, a physician, was awarded the 2001 Jonathan Mann Award for Health and Human Rights from the Global Health Council, the Magsaysay Foundation Award for Public Service in 2003, and was a Time magazine (Asia) "Hero of the Year" in 2004. After speaking out, she was placed under police surveillance and banned from traveling outside of China, including traveling to Washington, D.C. to receive the Jonathan Mann Award.
The original scandal involved thousands of poor villagers in Henan province, who became HIV-positive after selling blood. It was once common practice for technicians to draw blood, combine it with blood from others, extract the plasma from the mixed blood, and then reinject blood into the sellers, giving them the impression the process would not affect their health. This profitable but reckless business allegedly flourished until the Chinese government banned it in 1998. Dr. Gao estimates 100,000 people in Henan province are infected with HIV.
Villagers in Wenlou village, which suffered a 65 percent HIV-positive rate in the 1990's, told VOA that the government is helping to reduce poverty, but they complained that money for AIDS victims is being used to "help the rich and powerful, not the AIDS victims." They said that free supplies of AIDS medicine are being reduced and some villagers have had to sell grain stock and borrow money to pay their medical bills.
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