HIV and Vulnerable Groups in China
Poster at Qingdao Ocean University
In China the word MSM (Men Having Sex with Men) is generally used for the male gay community. There is a long tradition of MSM activity in China , and it has never been against the law. However, it carries a social stigma, especially in families and work units—and even today people can lose their jobs if they are identified as gay—and even more likely to lose their jobs if they are also HIV positive. If you have HIV you cannot get a job in government; and there are no openly gay officials at any level of government in China. At the present time, infection among MSM’s is the fastest-growing segment in the HIV/AIDS epidemic in China . 80 percent of new infections in Beijing are MSM's, and similar percentages occur elsewhere in China.
When Martin started the Trust’s connexions in China on HIV/AIDS in 1996, he called on the senior health officials in Beijing , and was told that they had absolutely no contact with MSM’s. They were aware that MSM’s were a high-risk group, but they did not know how to access them. However, with the help of the Chinese Ministry of Health and UNAIDS, we heard in 1997 of the work of Professor Zhang Beichuan in Qingdao and visited him there, and we immediately started supporting his work among MSM’s in China. At the same time, Billy Stewart of the EU (now at DfID) introduced us to the first gay activist group in Beijing , led by Guo Yaqi, and we supported this group for several years.
With MSM supporters in Chengdu . The Chengdu group benefited from funding and support from the UK/China project at an early stage, and they became a model MSM group in China , and represented China at international conferences.
Professor Zhang Beichuan (middle)
In more recent times, there has been a proliferation of gay groups around China , and funds available to them have increased substantially. However, in the early years, there was no funding available. Our grants to the gay groups in the early years were described as “bringing hot coals through the snow”. The courageous support which Dr. Zhang Beichuan gave to the gay community has at all times been recognized by the Chinese government as the best and most selfless work for MSM’s and our Trust has always given absolute priority to our cooperation with him.
We were especially pleased that in 1998 the Ford Foundation came in to support Dr. Zhang Beichuan by paying for his magazine “Friends Exchange”.
In the early part of the new century, Dr. Zhang Beichuan requested our Trust to support MSM groups around China , initially in Qingdao , Nanjing , Wuhan , Chongqing and Xi’an , and gradually to many other cities, including Shenyang , Dalian , Harbin , Anshan , Fushun , Guangzhou , Fuzhou , Hefei , Fuyang ,Taiyuan , Ningxia, Urumqi, Lanzhou, Dali , and Kunming . This remains a core activity of our Trust.
Our second core activity on behalf of MSM’s is in Beijing , where we are working closely with the two principal infectious diseases hospitals, the Beijing Ditan and Beijing You’an Hospitals. These hospitals have been encouraged by the Beijing Public Health Bureau to set an example in China of excellence in HIV/AIDS treatment and care. The two hospitals have for several years been reaching out to the MSM community in the capital, and have treated HIV positive MSM’s without prejudice and confidentially. They also treat patients from outside Beijing who come there because they offer unprejudiced and confidential treatment, which is not so widely available around China.
A further area of our Trust’s support for MSM’s is Dali , Yunnan , where the Peggy Health Center under Dr. Zhang Jianbo has set a particularly good example of AIDS care. We encouraged Dr. Zhang Jianbo to find out about the MSM’s in his area— and he succeeded in gathering a large group of countryside MSM’s. This project, is the only important countryside project in China . Other projects are all in big cities.
We are supporting the gay group in Dali. Our visit in February 2006 coincided with the camellia season and we are with the leading members of the group in the camellia park of Dali old town.
Trangender Beauty Competition, Changchun, North East China, 2013
Volunteers at gay group in Qingdao, 2015
Female Sex Workers (FSWs)
Prostitution in China has been increasing rapidly as China becomes more open. Sexually transmitted infections are very frequent and FSW’s are given low priority. We have for some years been supporting Qingdao Sisters Together, a project directed to the FSW community under Dr. Li Xiufang. At the moment HIV infection prevalence is small among the FSW’s, but the community is extremely vulnerable because of the high prevalence of STD’s.
The Trust provides funds to Dr Li Xiufang of Qingdao Medical School and, Dr. Zhang Jianbo of Dali Peggy Health Centre to reach out to female sex workers
China has a special problem with migrant workers, because men travel from the relatively poor parts of west and central China to the prosperous east coast and southern cities. Their wives do not come with them and their knowledge of safe sex is limited. We are supporting some doctors who are working in this area, for example, Dr Gui Xi-en in Wuhan Hubei .
Drugs are the original source of HIV infection in China, coming from the border areas near Burma , Vietnam , Kazakhstan , etc. Our work in Yunnan and Xinjiang is very much related to the victims of drug use. In the cities, there has been a proliferation in the use of chemical drugs available over the internet in china, and it has contributed to the spread of HIV among the young.
HIV-positive volunteers at the Needle Exchange Centre in Yining City who were joint recipients of our 2005 prize.
Frankie advises a Uighur couple on medication in Yili Prefecture.
The combined gay choirs from Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu, performing in Taipei
1st November 2015