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Cover Stories Series 2012> Moms Wanted> Archive
UPDATED: December 10, 2010 NO. 50 DECEMBER 16, 2010
A Red Ribbon for Children
The HIV/AIDS epidemic is affecting children and efforts are being taken to prevent mother-to-child transmission

RED RIBBON: Students of Tongkuang Second Primary School in Dexing City, Jiangxi Province, stand in the pattern of a red ribbon to show their concern for HIV/AIDS sufferers on November 30 (ZHUO ZHONGWEI)

A-Long lives by himself in a small, windowless cement-block cottage. He is 6 years old and his mother passed away a year ago due to AIDS. Earlier this year, he lost his father to the same disease. After his father's death, A-Long was also diagnosed HIV positive.

His home is at the end of a muddy road halfway up a hill in Niucheping Village, Liuzhou City of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

The only person close to A-Long is his 84-year-old grandmother, who lives 15 minutes away. She is unwilling to move in with the boy, as she is afraid of getting infected.

The grandmother often comes to see A-Long in the afternoon, but not every day. On her visits, she usually cooks for him and she has also planted two plots of vegetables in an open area beside the house. She says this should be enough for him to eat.

A-Long washes his clothes and cooks his meals when his grandmother is not visiting. His "kitchen" is an aluminum pot on several large cement blocks. He usually boils rice with vegetables picked from the yard. His cooking fuel is tree branches picked up nearby.

He plays by himself and studies by himself. He also feeds chickens and the dog his parents left him. At night, the dog, named Old Black, is his only companion.

From time to time, some kind-hearted people give A-Long toys and living supplies. A staff member of the village committee says they can guarantee he doesn't have to worry about food and clothing at the moment and they have already helped him apply for social security benefits: 70 yuan ($10.5) per month for this year and 100 yuan ($15) per month next year.

A-Long has reached school age. His grandmother wanted to send him to a local primary school, but other students' parents protested against it. Under the pressure, the school did not admit the 6-year-old orphan.

Once, A-Long accidentally burned his hand while cooking, but the local doctor did not dare to treat his wound.

A-Long's story has been widely circulated in Chinese media recently. Now, he has been accepted by a charity organization, reported the Beijing Youth Daily.

The epidemic

A-Long's story reminds people of the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS infection. By 2009, about 740,000 people in China were living with HIV/AIDS, the Ministry of Health, UNAIDS and the World Health Organization jointly estimated.

But the Ministry of Health announced at the end of November that only 370,393 HIV/AIDS infected persons had been reported in China by October, including 132,440 suffering from full-blown AIDS and 68,315 dead from the disease.

More than half of HIV carriers are either unaware of their infection or reluctant to report it, which contributes to a discrepancy between estimated and reported cases.

The epidemic continues to expand, but at a slower rate, said the Ministry of Health.

HIV/AIDS is mainly spread through sex in China. Initially, the primary transmission modes were intravenous drug use and blood donation. Heterosexual transmission accounted for 47.1 percent of cases reported in 2009, up from 40.3 percent in 2008.

Geographic distribution is highly varied, and some particular sub-populations are seriously affected. Of the reported cases, 77.1 percent occur in six provincial level administrative units such as Yunnan, Guangxi, Henan, Sichuan, Xinjiang and Guangdong, said the Ministry of Health.

Some people think AIDS is an adult disease. Nonetheless, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) points out the epidemic is affecting China's children heavily and in many different ways.

UNICEF estimates in China the number of children under 15 who have lost one or both parents to AIDS is far higher than 76,000.

Studies show a majority of children lose hope for the future and self-value when they learned their parents developed AIDS symptoms.

Children themselves can be infected. Ninety percent of HIV positive children under the age of 15 were infected through mother-to-child transmission, said Wang Linhong, Deputy Director of the National Center for Women and Children's Health at the Chinese Center for Disease Control.

Mother-to-child transmission accounted for 1 percent of total HIV/AIDS cases and 1.6 percent of those reported between January and October in 2007, said the Joint Assessment Report by China's State Council AIDS Working Committee Office and the UN Theme Group on AIDS in China published in 2007.

About 70 percent of total of HIV positive persons in China were males, said Wang. The increase in heterosexual transmission in China means a larger number of women are at risk, and so are children.

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