Call for China '90s HIV epidemic probe

2010-11-30 15:36
Chen Mingui holds up a photo of her son Tian Xi, a 23-year-old Aids activist, who she was visiting in a Beijing jail. (Ng Han Guan, AP)

Chen Mingui holds up a photo of her son Tian Xi, a 23-year-old Aids activist, who she was visiting in a Beijing jail. (Ng Han Guan, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

  • Chinese Culture
    Read all you need to know about the Chinese culture in this insightful title. Now R447.00
    buy now

Beijing - In his dying days, a retired Chinese health official is calling on the government to come clean about a 1990s blood-selling scandal that infected tens of thousands of people with the virus that causes Aids.

His appeal this week for a full and open investigation highlights a contradiction in China's Aids policy. Even as the government has become more open and better at treating HIV, it has refused to acknowledge past lapses, which it fears could embolden citizens to challenge its legitimacy.

"Not even one word of apology has been given to the victims, much less those who died, this is not how politicians should act," 78-year-old Chen Bingzhong wrote in an open letter to President Hu Jintao. "How can dealing with such a major disaster this way ever be explained to our countrymen, especially the many victims?"

The Health Ministry did not respond to a faxed request for comment. The letter was distributed on Sunday by Beijing Aizhixing Institute, an Aids advocacy group, and is circulating on the internet.

The scandal, which helped HIV gain a foothold in China, unfolded in the central province of Henan and is widely seen as a failure of government leadership.

Collectors paid villagers to give their blood, pooled it without testing for HIV or anything else, extracted the valuable plasma then re-injected the blood back into those who sold it.

Call for prosecutions

Officials covered up the problem for years, which allowed HIV to spread when people were unknowingly infected from tainted transfusions at hospitals.

"I think everyone believes it is outrageous that ... the government encouraged people, in an organised manner, to sell blood and then later on they got these diseases," said Professor Kin-man Chan, director of the Centre for Civil Society Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "So why were people who ... were in power not prosecuted?"

Chen, who once headed the government's health research agency, said in his letter that the scandal left more than 100 000 people infected with HIV and killed at least 10 000.

"As a former health official, I have a responsibility to publicise this issue and let everyone know the truth," he said by phone from his Beijing home.

Chen said two current members of the ruling Communist Party's powerful, nine-man Politburo Standing Committee - propaganda chief Li Changchun and Vice-Premier Li Keqiang - should be called to account for what happened in Henan. Both were party chiefs of Henan between 1992 and 2004.

"They have lied to their superiors and hidden the truth from the common people. They are guilty of serious dereliction of duty," Chen said.

More active stance taken

Several others have tried to draw official attention to the scandal, notably Gao Yaojie, an elderly doctor who received numerous awards for her efforts in the 1990s to alert people in the province to the outbreak.

Chen, who has terminal liver cancer, is one of the more senior former officials to voice criticism publicly.

The government has taken a more active stance on Aids in recent years. China's Cabinet pledged on Monday to expand HIV screening and reach out to groups at risk of infection.

Authorities in Henan have provided some financial help to many who contracted HIV from selling their plasma, but largely ignored those who got it through transfusions, said Wan Yanhai, founder of the advocacy group Aizhixing. Local courts reject lawsuits for compensation, leaving the victims with few avenues to seek redress, he said.

The frustration boiled over in August for one activist, 23-year-old Tian Xi, who contracted HIV from a blood transfusion as a boy. He was arrested after he smashed office equipment during a meeting with the administrator of the hospital where he was infected.

Tian was tried in late September, but the case was suspended recently without a decision and no word on when it would resume, said his lawyer, Liang Xiaojun.

Aids politicised

It would not be the first time an Aids petitioner was punished for seeking compensation. At least 10 victims from Henan were sent to labour camps in the past three years for attempts to gain reparation, Wan said.

Despite the risks, many say they will not give up. Last Tuesday, about 60 petitioners travelled from Henan to Beijing to lobby the Health Ministry for help.

"We want the government to admit that HIV infections from blood transfusions are a serious public health incident and compensate us," said 42-year-old Sun Ya whose 14-year-old son was infected by a blood transfusion. "On its own, Aids should not be a political problem, but when the courts reject us, it becomes politicised."

- AP

Read more on:    hu jintao  |  china  |  hiv aids

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24


'Zuma's legacy will be judged by Nkandla'

The legacy of President Jacob Zuma is contingent on how he deals with the issue of upgrades to his Nkandla homestead, says Cape Town Archbishop Thabo Makgoba.


Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
  • Thursday Sir Lowry's Pass - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Old Sir Lowrys Pass Road
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Bezweni Road
  • Thursday Cape Town - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Buitengracht Street
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Waterkant Street
More traffic reports...

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now! - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

DSTV Mobile iDrifta

The iDrifta is a plug and play mobile DVB-H receiver...

From R445.00

I'm shopping for:


Self-indulgence may be strong today. You may want to enjoy yourself to the fullest and share it with those that make you more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.