Premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang's overtures to non-governmental organisations working in the field of HIV/Aids prevention and treatment resonate with the theme for World Aids Day today: "Working Together for an AIDS-Free Generation". They also have a personal significance, coming after his intervention with the Health Ministry in the case of an HIV-positive lung-cancer patient refused treatment by public hospitals in Tianjin. Some say this is all part of an effort to counter criticism of an alleged cover-up following a massive outbreak of HIV infections linked to blood donations in Henan while he was provincial governor and party chief in the late 1990s.
Nonetheless the vice-premier's initiatives are to be welcomed from a public health viewpoint.
In the 10 months to October, new cases of Aids and related deaths on the mainland were up by 12.7 per cent and 8.6 per cent respectively year on year. New infections are on the rise. Amid complacency and ignorance among those at risk, and widespread fear and discrimination, the disease presents a challenge governments cannot handle on their own. The participation of NGOs specialising in the field is indispensable, especially in education and assistance with the management of HIV infections to prevent the onset of Aids.
Li's efforts this week are in the tradition of top leaders reaching out to Aids victims at this time. But he has gone further, asking the Finance Ministry to organise a pilot programme of tax breaks for NGOs working in HIV/Aids prevention, promoting the role of NGOs at an inter-ministry conference and meeting 12 Aids activist groups. He stressed that their role in prevention "is an irreplaceable and unique force". Beijing has been suspicious of the activities of NGOs, tightening the rule for foreign-based or funded organisations. Li's remarks put a more positive focus on their work.
We trust they will be given greater space to carry out their missions, as promised by the vice-premier.