Sunday, February 18, 2007

Educating masses on HIV/AIDS

  BEIJING, Feb. 13 -- "Will a kiss contract HIV?" Zhu Yuangang raised his hand to ask - he had just learned that body fluids such as blood, milk and semen could transmit the disease.

   The answer from Yu Dongbao, a representative from the HIV/AIDS Prevention Committee under the State Council, puzzled Zhu.

   "Ordinary kisses will not," he was told.

   Intrigued by the doctor's answer, Zhu further enquired: "But what is a not an ordinary kiss?"

   "Well," Dr Yu replied: "A kiss that is not considered ordinary would be one which produces at least 20ml of saliva, with one or both of the participants having ulcers or deep cuts in their mouths."

   However, such a scenario is highly unlikely and, according to Dr Yu, no such case has ever been confirmed by scientists.

   Zhu was attending a two-day workshop on HIV/AIDS in Beijing at the end of December last year, where he listened to lectures given by prestigious university professors, along with medical and legal experts on current HIV/AIDS challenges and prevention policies.

   As director of the Publicity and Education Division of the Publicity Department of Heilongjiang, Zhu routinely works with the media and provides them with tips or guidelines on coverage of various issues of public concern, including HIV/AIDS.

   He explained that local citizens and journalists had asked him numerous questions about the disease, such as the one he had raised in Dr Yu's lecture.

   "Even I was not sure about the answers," he said.

   Such lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS, and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) in general, is not unusual among China's populace sex education in Chinese schools is inadequate, and little information about preventing the spread of STDs is provided to the public.

   The lack of knowledge, Dr Yu said, could hinder the battle against HIV/AIDS.

   The officially sponsored workshops, like the one Zhu attended, are designed to educated and help local officials provide more accurate, detailed information regarding the disease, according to Dr Yu.

   At the end of the two-day workshop, Zhu received a certificate, several publicity pamphlets on HIV/AIDS and video discs. However, he said, the most important change he noticed in himself after attending the workshop was his attitude toward people afflicted with the disease.

   "The more you know about HIV/AIDS, the less fear and bias you have, and the more accurate the media coverage on the disease will be," he said.

   Jointly sponsored by the office of the State Council HIV/AIDS Prevention Committee and the publicity and education bureau of the Publicity Department under the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the December workshop was based on the initial success of the inaugural one, which took place in November 2005, according to Yu, who is also a leading official of the China AIDS Roadmap Tactical Support (CHARTS) project.

   Publicity officials from 28 municipalities, provinces and autonomous regions attended the workshop, up from just eight in 2005.

   The annual workshop is part of a program initiated by the CHARTS project, which aims to strengthen China's efforts to deliver an effective and coordinated response to HIV/AIDS through capacity building, support policies and training for government officials.

   Starting from Jan. 17, 2005, the three-year project has a combined joint funding of five million pounds, provided by the Chinese government, UNAIDS and the British government's Department for International Development (DFID), along with an additional six million Norwegian Krone from the government of Norway.

   According to Dong Junshan, deputy director of the CPC Central Committee Publicity Department's Publicity and Education Bureau, the workshops show the unprecedented attention that the central government gives to tackling HIV/AIDS.

   "They indicate that the Chinese government is now taking a high-profile, positive stance in dealing with a possible HIV/AIDS explosion - the fight against the disease in China is now of political significance," Dong said.

   The training courses targeting nationwide publicity officials has broken new ground, Dong said, as "opinion leaders at all levels will make HIV/AIDS reporting a priority and combat discrimination against sufferers".

   Dong said more media publicity of HIV/AIDS is essential if the disease is to be brought under control in China.

   Professor Li Xiguang, one of the trainers from the Center for International Communications Studies at Tsinghua University, agreed with Dong.

   He said that these opinion leaders' coverage of HIV/AIDS "could have a direct bearing on the effects of HIV prevention - therefore, alerting them to HIV/AIDS policies is a top priority in China's control drive".

   "The key for HIV/AIDS control and prevention in China is leadership, the key for anti-HIV/AIDS media coverage is also leadership," said Li, adding that the support from local opinion leaders is indispensable to the program's development.

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