Aids activist wins support of health officials for US trip

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 February, 2007, 12:00am

Two top officials from the Ministry of Health visited Aids activist Gao Yaojie on her first day in Beijing to show the central government's support for her trip to the United States to receive an award.

Dr Gao said yesterday that she had a 90-minute meeting with Vice-Minister of Health Wang Longde and the vice-director of the ministry's Disease Control Department, Hao Yang , in her hotel room on Thursday night. The pair represented Vice-Premier Wu Yi in sending regards to the elderly Aids warrior.

'Mr Wang is one of the most sensible officials I have met because he recognises there is blood infection [from Aids on the mainland] and the inefficiency of the medical system [in treating Aids],' Dr Gao said. 'He also understands the misery of [Aid] patients very well.'

Thursday night's visit by the central government officials would have been a slap in the face for authorities from Dr Gao's home town of Zhengzhou . They put pressure on her - including a period of house arrest - and on her relatives to force her to give up the trip to the US to receive the 2007 Vital Voices Global Women's Leadership Award for Human Rights.

Dr Gao said Mr Wang and Mr Hao had also invited her to join them in formulating a comprehensive plan to deal with HIV/Aids on the mainland.

'I am afraid that I cannot entertain such a request because I have been scared by local officials,' she said, in a reference to the 20 days she recently spent under house arrest in the Henan provincial capital.

The 79-year-old doctor, who exposed blood-selling schemes that possibly infected thousands of people with HIV, collected a four-week visa for the US yesterday after the reported intervention of President Hu Jintao and Ms Wu led to her being allowed to leave Zhengzhou. It remains unclear when she will set off, but she said she would be in Washington for the Vital Voices awards ceremony on March 14 and would also go to New York and Chicago.

Dr Gao said her trip would raise awareness for Aids prevention but that many obstacles remained.

'The key problem is corruption. Beijing has been hoodwinked,' she said, referring to local officials who have cheated Aids programmes.