Lin Oi-chu's life changed irrevocably after a chance meeting in 1992 with a 12-year-old haemophiliac dying from AIDS. Ms Lin was a psychiatric nurse assigned to help him and his family cope with his illness. Known to the public by the common name 'Ming Tsai' to protect his identity, the boy had just been excluded from his school in Sha Tin because of his illness. The case provoked an outcry. 'The encounter itself and the two years working with this boy had a great impact on me,' said Ms Lin, now 37, who started her nursing career in 1981. 'I was shocked when I found that in such a civilised and prosperous society we still have a group of patients who are discriminated against.' The experience prompted her to dedicate her career to helping the suffering of victims like Ming Tsai. Today Ms Lin is the chief executive of the Hong Kong AIDS Foundation. Ms Lin already had two years' experience working with children afflicted with terminal illnesses when she was assigned to help the boy, but his case was particularly difficult. When she first saw him in a ward at Queen Mary Hospital he was so traumatised that he refused to even acknowledge her presence. 'This is quite common among children with chronic illness, because they are suffering great agony. They're not sure what causes this suffering and from time to time some children may blame themselves. They think, 'I'm too naughty so I was punished'.' 'This boy had suffered a lot of discrimination and unfriendly treatment in the past,' she said. 'He was not quite sure whether I was there to tease him, or if I was there to support him.' Ms Lin gradually won Ming Tsai's trust. 'I let him know that I understood what he was thinking about. I wanted to be friends with him and I really wanted to help to make things better, even though I could not give him a cure.' After two weeks he spoke to her for the first time. Ming Tsai's ostracism continued even in hospital, Ms Lin said, despite her efforts on his behalf. The problems he faced showed her how deep the fear of AIDS and HIV - the virus that leads to it - was entrenched in society. At a children's ward Christmas party in 1992, she recalled, the boy was forced by staff to sit on his own in a corner. Ms Lin's requests that he be allowed to sit with the other children were turned down. 'It should not have happened,' she said. 'I realised we need to help medical staff to be prepared for AIDS, and to know how important it is to be accepted. Even though we couldn't extend [Ming Tsai's] life, if we could have reduced all these psychological tortures, he would have been much more fulfilled when he left us.' Ms Lin helped look after Ming Tsai until he died in 1994. He was 14. The AIDS Foundation Ms Lin now heads has a full-time staff of 17 committed to limiting the spread of HIV and lessening the suffering of those infected. Based in pleasant pastel-coloured offices in Shau Kei Wan, it conducts public AIDS awareness campaigns, runs a telephone hotline, offers anonymous HIV testing, counselling for victims and their families, and social and financial support. It has about 70 clients who are HIV positive or with full-blown AIDS. They receive the assistance of the staff and about 150 volunteers, who help out when they can, visiting sufferers, running classes, or doing clerical work. Most of the volunteers are civic-minded members of the public, but some are in the early stages of the disease themselves. Others are bereaved relatives of AIDS victims who were themselves helped by the AIDS Foundation. The AIDS Foundation relies on interest from a $30 million endowment from the Government and the Hong Kong Jockey Club and charitable donations for funding, with spending of $9 million planned this financial year. In the first three months of this year 45 people tested HIV positive in Hong Kong - the highest number ever diagnosed in any quarter - bringing the total to 821 since the first case was diagnosed in the territory in 1985. Of those, 263 had developed full-blown AIDS by the end of March - 18 new cases in the past three months. Three-quarters of the sufferers were male, and more than half contracted the disease through heterosexual sex. Ms Lin estimated there were about 2,000 more people in Hong Kong who were HIV positive but not aware of it. This figure is still low compared with Hong Kong's neighbours in Southeast Asia. Ms Lin credited Hong Kong's 'luck' to a speedy start to public information campaigns and a relatively well-educated and wealthy population who could understand the issues more easily and afford to protect themselves. Despite widespread knowledge, however, the rate of infection is increasing. Most Hong Kong sufferers contracted HIV through unprotected sex, said Ms Lin. Relatively few got the disease through intravenous drug use because syringes were cheaply available in Hong Kong, and local addicts were not in the habit of sharing needles. She said there were no accurate figures for the number of Hong Kong residents who had died of AIDS-related illnesses. 'In the final stage a patient may have pneumonia and die of that. The patient got the infection because he had AIDS, but most families will request the doctors to sign the death certificate saying the cause was pneumonia so the funeral parlour will be more co-operative. Eight or 10 times I have had to say goodbye to my clients just outside the mortuary of Queen Elizabeth Hospital. They have to have this humble funeral because no funeral parlour will take an AIDS corpse.' Attending funerals is part of the job for Ms Lin, who went to 11 last year. 'People may think health-care workers get used to death,' she said. 'But even though I prepare myself and I know they will one day leave me, especially those who have already developed AIDS, I am still upset. It's sad, it's really sad.' The AIDS Foundation's next public awareness campaign will target discrimination in the workplace. From June, malevolent eyes made of paper clips and staplers will glare out of adverts on buses and trains across the territory. 'We are trying to tell people that their discriminatory attitude, which is most significant in the eyes, will cause more damage to people with HIV than the disease itself. 'Work means a lot to ordinary people and also to people with HIV or AIDS, not just because of the financial aspect, but for a sense of being useful in society. 'Eighty per cent of HIV positive people are aged 20 to 49 - the most productive period of their lives. 'If we discriminate against those who are HIV positive then it is a loss to the community because they can still contribute. Why don't we just accept them and treat them as our colleagues as usual? 'People think that those with HIV are some special class in society. 'But they are ordinary people, just like you and me.'