Aids activist wishes she 'could have done more'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 March, 2007, 12:00am

Gao Yaojie, upon receiving a leadership award in the US, laments her powerlessness to stop the disease spreading

Mainland Aids activist Gao Yaojie says she feels ashamed for failing to stop the spread of the deadly disease in China.

'I feel ashamed for not being able to stop the spread of Aids. I have failed and we as a nation have also failed,' the 80-year-old told a press conference at Washington's Georgetown University on Wednesday. 'I wish I could do more. We as a nation must do more.'

Dr Gao was in the American capital to receive an international human rights award from the women's group, Vital Voices. Her visit attracted worldwide attention because authorities from her home province of Henan had put Dr Gao, also known as Grandma Courage, under house arrest in an attempt to prevent her from travelling to accept the award.

It was only after international outcry about her situation that she was able to take the trip.

A retired gynaecologist, Dr Gao has been instrumental in exposing the spread of the Aids in Henan through the sale of blood in poor farming communities during the 1990s. She also has adopted hundreds of orphans whose parents were killed by the disease. For her efforts, Henan officials have constantly harassed her and her family.

Dr Gao described local officials as corrupt miscreants who only cared about making money. But she praised President Hu Jintao for his support for her work. Reports said Mr Hu had personally intervened to allow Dr Gao to leave Henan and visit the US. 'President Hu and others in the central government are supporting my work by letting me speak to you today.

'President Hu also wants to stop the spread of Aids but he, too, is being stymied by the corrupt local officials.'

Dr Gao said illegal blood sales in rural areas continued to be rampant throughout the mainland, particularly in Guizhou and Guangdong provinces.

'Many of the blood-selling centres operate in the middle of the night,' she said. She added that discrimination against Aids sufferers remained a serious problem and such attitudes must change.

Dr Gao said she planned to publish two books about her fight against Aids and on the lives of sufferers. She said a publisher had previously agreed to publish one of the books but the project was stopped when its editor was fired.