Heartache of the Aids whistle-blower forced to live in exile

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 February, 2010, 12:00am

Over the past six months, 82-year-old Dr Gao Yaojie has often woken up in tears, only to find herself in a cosy Texas bedroom.

In her dreams, she can reach home by crossing a river. But when she wakes up, she is separated from her Henan home by an ocean and the central government's suppression of her campaign to speak up for mainland Aids patients.

Gao, the mainland's most high-profile HIV/Aids whistle-blower, said she was forced into exile in August in order to carry on documenting the plight of mainland Aids patients and the scandal of disease transmission through blood sales and transfusions. She faced constant harassment from the authorities for insisting that blood remained the most important means of transmission on the mainland, not sexual contact as claimed by the government.

Gao is now living with a Chinese family in an undisclosed location in Texas. But the more care they show to her, the more heartbroken she is as it reminds her that her only son has blamed her for causing trouble for the family.

'I feel secure and comfortable here, but my son did not treat me that way,' she tells RTHK in a documentary that will be broadcast tomorrow. 'I travelled to the US alone as I was homeless in my country. All my children have their own families ... none of them supports me.'

Every day, the small, frail doctor is taken to a study provided by a nearby church so that she can write. It is quiet, clean and safe compared to her home, where she was constantly under surveillance.

She has published a first book and almost finished a second. But she has paid a heavy price for bringing the stories of hundreds of Aids patients to light. She may never be able to go home to the old flat in a compound in Zhengzhou that she shared with her late husband for many years.

The only comfort may be in her dreams, where she crosses a river easily to pick up the photos of patients she left behind. They are the pictures of HIV/Aids patients and orphans she visited in Henan, Sichuan , Guangxi , Guangdong and other places over the past 16 years.

'I cry every morning when I wake up as I miss all the HIV patients and orphans in China very much,' she said. 'I look on them as my own children ... but they live like little livestock. None of them was treated like a human being at all.'

Gao managed to take some pictures to the US, with the help of villagers in Guangzhou.

Before she finally made up her mind to leave for the US, the retired gynaecologist hid in a small village for six months as she tried to organise the stories of the Aids patients and compile them into books.

She was both touched and surprised by the help offered by many sympathisers she did not know before, as it showed the depth of their dissatisfaction with the government.

'In the village on the outskirts of Guangzhou there were a lot of local people helping me to typewrite and file my articles and data,' she said. 'Those people helped me because they are dissatisfied with our society, but none of them dare to speak out.'

When she decided the risks of staying in China were too high and it was time to leave, her sympathisers helped her to scan hundreds of photos and transfer them onto CDs. They provide the key information for her books.

She has collected a great deal of evidence, including documents and photos, linking blood sales to the spread of HIV on the mainland.

'I plan to write three books in the first two years in the US,' she said. 'I want to use my books to let all the people realise blood sales are the key channel [of HIV transmission]. Otherwise, nobody will know the facts after I die.'

Her first book, China's Aids Plague: 10,000 Letters, was published in December. Gao tells RTHK that her second book, about Aids orphans and child victims, will go on sale in Taiwan later this year.

The Chinese version of Gao's interview will be broadcast at 7pm tomorrow on TVB Jade Channel, while the English version will screen at 6.55pm next Friday on ATV World.