Border residents face higher risk of infection

By Yang Wanli in Yingjiang, Yunnan | China Daily | Updated: 2016-07-18 09:44

Despite often spending several hours a day walking between villages in the mountainous areas of Southwest China's Yunnan province, Yang Chunyan always wears shoes with 10-centimeter-high stiletto heels.

The 38-year-old advocate of HIV/AIDS control and anti-drug education said she wants to present a dynamic, sophisticated image that will impress the local people and reinforce the message she is trying to convey.

As the director of the Yingjiang Charity Federation, Yang has cooperated with the AIDS Prevention Education Project for Chinese Youth since 2012, when it piloted six "Youth Love Stations" in Yingjiang county in Yunnan.

The province shares a 4,000-km-long border with Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.

Yang, who was born and raised in Yingjiang, said drug trafficking and addiction pose great challenges to local people's health, but the biggest and deadliest threat comes from HIV/AIDS.

She has witnessed countless heartbreaking stories in the past four years. As an example, she recounted how a 14-year-old girl died from AIDS in June.

Border residents face higher risk of infection

The girl, a member of the Jingpo ethnic group, was infected by her mother, an AIDS patient who had an abortion. The mother asked her daughter to donate fresh blood for her to drink (in accordance with a local superstition that supposedly promotes rapid recovery from illness). When the girl refused, the mother bit her in an attempt to taste her blood, and the girl became infected.

"We've heard too many sad stories here. Men leave the village and head closer to the border to earn money for their families. They are exposed to drugs and prostitutes, the high-risk groups for HIV/AIDS. Without any basic knowledge of AIDS, many become infected and they spread the disease to their wives through unprotected sex," Yang said.

"Many children have lost their parents to AIDS. They need support, understanding and respect from the public," she said.

Effective sex education is desperately needed because although young people have greater exposure to drugs and HIV/AIDS than their parents' generation, they have limited access to information related to sex and the prevention of disease, she added.

The AIDS prevention project runs 12 Youth Love Stations across the country.

In April, Tsering Wanglha, who works at the Chengguan District Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet autonomous region, participated in a training class at Chengdu University, which hosts a Youth Love Base.

The number of new AIDS cases in Tibet has risen in the past five years, he said.

"The local health department has made great efforts to control the disease among adults, but education remains a blank page for young people," he said.

With the help of the AIDS prevention project, eight schools in Lhasa now provide optional lectures on safe sex and AIDS prevention.

WeChat is used widely in Tibet, so Tsering Wanglha has opened a public account on the popular social networking platform. The account has attracted about 8,000 subscribers. Tsering Wanglha posts a 60-second voice message every day, mainly related to health education and including information on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.

"People send me questions every day. I feel a deep responsibility and want to spread knowledge to more people in need. What I am doing probably won't have an impact in the short term, but it may change the lives of the next generation," he said.

(China Daily 07/18/2016 page6)

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