More than a dozen Aids patients and their families petitioned near the Ministry of Finance compound in Beijing yesterday, ahead of today's World Aids Day, calling for the long-overdue implementation of central government funding intended to help children affected by HIV/Aids.
The petitioners had planned to unfurl a giant triangle-shaped replica of a red scarf, covered in signatures and similar to the ones worn by members of the youth organisation Young Pioneers of China, but could not get near the entrance to the ministry, as more than a dozen police vehicles were deployed there in the morning.
One of the petitioners, Sun Ya, said up to 100 people, mostly from Henan and Hebei provinces, spent the past week petitioning various central government agencies, including the ministries of Civil Affairs, Public Health and Finance, pushing for the implementation of Ministry of Civil Affairs guidelines made public in March 2009.
The guidelines obligate the central and local governments to provide adequate medical care, education and financial assistance to children affected by HIV/Aids, including those infected, those orphaned by the disease or those with a parent who has the virus or disease.
Under the guidelines, those children are entitled to at least 600 yuan (HK$733) a month, on top of assistance for their schooling.
However, Sun, from Zhengzhou in Henan, whose 15-year son contracted HIV from a blood transfusion in 2002, said they had not received such assistance because the governments had failed to agree on a division of the cost. Sun is among thousands of mainlanders who contracted HIV from contaminated blood transfusions and illicit blood-farming schemes. These were once a booming industry under the eyes of local governments in central areas of the mainland in the late 1990s, as authorities refused to heed a warning before 2003 about a possible outbreak of HIV/Aids.
The mainland has 346,000 registered HIV carriers and Aids patients, but the number is predicted to hit 780,000 by the end of the year, as about 56 per cent of those infected are unaware of their condition, according to figures released this week in a joint assessment by the Ministry of Health, World Health Organisation and UNAids. About 40,000 people on the mainland have contracted HIV in the past two years. Sun said they simply wanted to meet central government authorities who might be able to do something about their plight, in accordance with the guidelines, because their grievances had not been heard at regional levels.
'But the first people we meet every time are police who simply treat us as a threat to social stability,' he said. 'Or we're thrown back to our local governments by authorities handling petitions, and we have to start the process over again and again.'
Sun said his son now had Aids, along with other medical conditions such as epilepsy. They have waited more than two years for help, and he fears his son might not have another two years to wait.
Gao Yanping, a 36-year old Aids patient from Kaifeng in Henan, said she contracted HIV from her husband, who was infected by an unsanitary blood-farming scheme in 1994, but it was not until 2007 that they both tested positive. Her husband died that year.
She was laid off in 1997 and said she had been working in Jiangsu province before becoming too sick to work.
Gao said she could hardly make ends meet on the 400 yuan a month she gets in government-provided unemployment benefits.
She is petitioning on behalf of her 14-year-old son, who does not have the virus.
'He is the only hope for me to carry on,' she said.