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NGO playing unique role in HIV/AIDS prevention

HIV affects less than 0.1 percent of the Chinese population, but there is a need to do more, as new cases appear every year in the thousands. Many NGOs have been doing their bit to supplement the government’s efforts to fight the virus.

The total number of HIV positive cases in China as of August was 490,000.

And the China Alliance of People Living with HIV/AIDS or CAP+, is an alliance for HIV infected people in the country, serving nearly 13,000 HIV positive people.

Its coordinator, Meng Lin, has been on anti-retro-viral medication for 19 years, ever since he was diagnosed with AIDS.He is also the longest surviving AIDS patient in China.

He says being HIV infected himself, helps him connect with people better.

“People we interact with are fragile, sensitive and hidden. People such as homosexual men, drug users, sex workers. They are less willing to identify themselves to the government. We’re from that community; we know their language and habits. So we inform them of treatment options and policies and encourage more and more people to go and get tested,” Meng said.

Official figures show that 70,000 new HIV infections have been recorded in the first eight months of this year alone. And sexual contact remains a major source of transmission. When it comes to sexual contact between same sex persons, that figure now stands at nearly 25 percent of the total, compared to just 2.5 percent in 2006.

For many grassroots NGOs, contact with high risk communities is their main focus area.

CAP+ provides counseling and medical help to HIV carriers, face to face or via its website. It also holds events and seminars to help raise public awareness. Its office is in Beijing You’an hospital.

“Our hospital has medical resources, but we need NGOs to encourage those infected or potentially infected to come to us,” said Wang Xiaolan, head nurse of Beijing You’an Home of Loving Care.

Many young people who are not HIV infected are also working with the alliance.

“Many people feel HIV infected people are different. But when we are together, they are just people with a disease. They eat with us, talk with us and live with us, nothing different,” said Shao Peng of China Alliance of People Living with HIV/AIDS.

Meng Lin has been taking free drugs offered by the government since 2009. He says besides free drugs, HIV carriers need more.

“I think HIV positive people have to be able to live, work and interact socially. They just want to be treated as normal people,” Meng said.

Looking to the future, Meng hopes NGOs can get greater support from the government and be more helpful in the fight against AIDS.