Published: 11:38, November 1, 2022 | Updated: 18:13, November 1, 2022
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Society sees attitudes change toward HIV/AIDS
By Wang Xiaoyu

Founder of nonprofit says people are now more open and accepting of those battling the illness. Wang Xiaoyu reports.

Volunteers from Jiangsu University hand out pamphlets on the prevention of HIV/AIDS to workers at a construction site in the city of Zhenjiang, Jiangsu province, on Nov 29 last year. (SHI YUCHENG / FOR CHINA DAILY)

Editor's note: To mark the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, China Daily is producing 10 profile stories to show the changes in the subjects' fields in the past decade. This is the seventh in the series.

During Bu Jiaqing's junior year in college, a friend let him in on the secret that he had tested positive for HIV and needed Bu's help.

"At the time (2008), I had already been trained in HIV prevention techniques as a Red Cross volunteer, but knowing that someone so close to me had been infected still came as a shock," Bu said. "After calming down, I helped him contact the disease control authorities and local Red Cross officials for consultation and treatment."

Many newly infected people still have reservations about disease control centers, and prefer to get in touch with us first. We want to become a bridge between them and help those in need to access professional medical services in time while providing them with psychological support.

Bu Jiaqing, founder of a nonprofit that spreads awareness of HIV prevention and cares for patients in need

The incident prompted Bu to reflect on the dilemma facing China's HIV community. "Even as a trained 'social worker', I had a moment of distress. I thought 'What about those who are newly infected but have no idea of the support they can access?'"

As a result, the same year Bu set up the Shanghai Qing'ai Health Promotion Center, a nonprofit devoted to spreading awareness of HIV prevention and caring for patients in need. After graduating and working as a village official for a year, he decided to quit his job in 2010 to work full time for the organization, which is funded partly by the Shanghai government and partly by a number of international organizations.

Understanding, respect

Now, more than a decade later, Bu said the field has witnessed great progress. "The most noticeable change is how the whole society views and treats HIV-positive groups. From people's facial expressions and body language when they encounter HIV patients, we can tell that many are trying to understand and respect the group, rather than showing disdain or fear," he said.

"Back in 2006, if an organization intended to hold an event related to HIV/AIDS, such as a training session or a seminar, probably no hotel would be willing to lease its venue to the organizers. But now, many facilities accept such events and agree to showcase promotional materials in public spaces."

An unforgettable moment for Bu occurred in 2012. It came during a forum held in Fuzhou, capital of the eastern province of Fujian, when the host asked whether anybody would hug a man in the hall who had HIV and all the 20-plus participants raised their hands, he said.

"The change also inspired people living with HIV and AIDS to reveal their condition to others and share their stories to further curb discrimination against people with the disease," Bu said.

According to health officials, the occurrence of HIV/AIDS in China has remained at a low level in recent years, and there is less discrimination against people with the illness.

Speaking at a news conference in June, Feng Zijian, vice-president of the Chinese Preventive Medicine Association, said the transmission of HIV through blood transfusions has been basically eradicated, while the spread of the virus from mother to child and its transmission via contaminated needles have dropped to the lowest levels in China's history.

In the past decade, the number of HIV screening laboratories nationwide has risen from 17,000 to 49,000, while the number of labs that conduct confirmatory HIV tests rose from around 300 to 700. Meanwhile, the number of antiviral therapy facilities rose from 3,400 to over 6,000.

As a result of the improved prevention and control network, by last year, 92.6 percent of those diagnosed received antiviral treatment and 96.4 percent of those on treatment had achieved viral suppression, which is an indication that the disease is under control.

"Since 2015, the central government has set up a special fund to support such groups and provide consultation, testing, drugs and psychological services for MSM (men who have sex with men) groups and sex workers," Feng said. "They are playing an increasingly important role in helping to curb the disease."

Bu said his organization is now attaching more significance to advocating for HIV/AIDS knowledge on campus. "It is very important for the younger population to have a proper understanding of genital health, sexual relationships and HIV/AIDS," he said.

Meanwhile, he has insisted that the organization's hotline and QQ account — an online messaging app — should be online and responsive around the clock.

"Many newly infected people still have reservations about disease control centers, so they prefer to get in touch with us first," he said.

"We want to become a bridge between them and help those in need to access professional medical services in time while providing them with psychological support."

Overcoming a challenge

With innovative treatment regimes and improved health services, Bu said it is widely recognized that HIV/AIDS is becoming a manageable chronic disease.

However, the severe wave of COVID-19 epidemic that hit Shanghai hard this spring presented a special challenge for his organization after the city entered a phased lockdown in late March to stem an outbreak.

When Bu obtained a permit to leave his residential complex on April 5, he immediately rushed to the center's storage warehouse to count the nonprofit's inventory of antiviral drugs.

"A flurry of messages asking for assistance in picking up drugs were sent to us," he said. "I drove my own car to deliver medication to people in need, but because of the long distances, I could only help seven to eight patients a day."

Thanks to medical aid groups dispatched from other parts of China, the local disease control and prevention center gradually resumed normal operations.

"We negotiated with the local Center for Disease Control and agreed to focus our limited resources on nonlocal HIV patients who were isolated in Shanghai," Bu said.

According to Bu, the center helped nearly 1,700 people with HIV/AIDS to pick up drugs during the height of the local COVID-19 outbreak from late March to early June.

Despite more than a decade's experience working with people with HIV/AIDS, Bu said he still has much to learn, such as using the internet to improve awareness of the disease and providing adequate intervention for those at risk of exposure to the virus.

"As a social organization, we also find it difficult to recruit enough qualified workers," he said. "We hope that more professionals and volunteers will join our cause in the future."

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