China’s AIDS Orphans

2006 December 9  |  The Lancet, Vol. 368, No. 9552, Page 2046
By Ian Anderson
School bullies can be cruel but, “Your mother died, then your father. Both were infected. So no one will play with you”, is more than any child should hear from a classmate; especially if the teacher then makes the taunted child sit alone at the back of the class. This is but one example of the type of stigmatism that China's 75,000 AIDS orphans face daily.
In China's impoverished rural communities adverts that invite locals to “Extend your arm, bear the pain of a needle. Then flex your arm, 50 Yuan is earned” often prove too tempting to resist. Unfortunately, because of the unsafe practice of reinjecting donors with unused blood constituents—not necessarily from their own sample—to reduce recovery times, thousands of Chinese have unwittingly contracted HIV.
For 1 year, Emmy award-winning director Ruby Yang and producer Thomas Lennon filmed the orphans of the remote Anhui Province of China. Their film, The Blood of Yingzhou District is a documentary, produced by The China AIDS Media Project, which forms part of a broader campaign to increase AIDS awareness in China. Indeed, the film makers estimate to have already reached 200 million Chinese viewers.
Central to the film is Gao Jun, an apparently mute and emotionally blunted young child who has lost both of his parents to AIDS. Fearful of the social stigma that would befall them for associating with an HIV-positive child, Gao's only remaining extended family offer him up for adoption. Gao's uncle explains that “If my children play with him, other parents will forbid their children from playing with mine”, adding “our lives would be unbearable with the discrimination we'd face”.
Fortunately for Gao, the Fu'ai Charity are able to find him foster parents and he is soon playing, shouting, and laughing with his new siblings. But viewers are reminded that he is one of a lucky few. Many of China's AIDS orphans end up living alone or with siblings, in squalor and completely isolated from the rest of their village, whose inhabitants refuse to associate with them for fear of contracting a disease that they believe to be contagious.
This film certainly doesn't lack impact. The picture of social abuse and childhood neglect that it depicts is disturbing and not easily forgotten. Unlike some documentaries, The Blood of Yingzhou District does not come across as propaganda, nor does it make the viewer feel guilty or ashamed. This sensitive and insightful look at the plight of the orphans of China's largely underappreciated HIV/AIDS epidemic should achieve its goal of raising awareness in China.
Ian Anderson