Start Asia In China, the number of people living with HIV is growing

In China, the number of people living with HIV is growing

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The Mudanyuan Park in the north Beijing : In the morning, retirees make here to deafening Schlagerbeats gymnastics, after dawn, men come to anonymous sex. They arrange to meet between the bushes in the „Glückshöhle“, on the „petting mound“ behind the small bridge and in the public toilet at the end of the „gay avenue“. On this November morning, a white minibus with a rainbow banner stands a few meters from the toilet. On a folding table there are condoms and leaflets about AIDS prevention. Zhang Hailong, 36, round pot haircut, purple anorak, shakes his legs against the cold and blows white clouds into the air. For twelve years, Zhang Mama, as the men in the park call him, has offered free HIV testing and counseling sessions in his minibus.

A small, slender man, almost a boy, rushes out of the bushes, hands in his pockets, his red jacket hood pulled low over his face. „Zhang Mama, do you have something to do for me today?“

He wants to keep his real name to himself. We’re to call him Little Kelly, like the female character from a Beijing opera. Kelly likes to sing, he’s 22 years old, he tested positive five years ago. His voice, soft and soft, betrays that he is coming from the land. He grew up in a village in Hebei, Kelly says. He realized early that he was different from other boys. After sixth grade Kelly dropped the school and went to Beijing. Over the Internet, he met an elderly man who invited him to his home. They had sex without a condom, it was his first time. It must have happened. „I was 12 or 13 or 14“, so he does not remember exactly. Or do not want to remember. Kelly does not have a job or a flat and spends the nights in internet cafés. If he needs money, he comes to Zhang Mama in the park.

2,000 blood samples every month

Like many gay men in China who have advised Zhang Hailong, Kelly had before the test of the disease AIDS never heard anything. Zhang’s NGO has the somewhat cryptic name: Chinese Concentric Attentive Volunteer Development Center. Zhang and his 13 helpers offer free HIV testing. They test 2,000 blood samples every month in Beijing for HIV. „Still too little,“ Zhang says.

China’s fight against AIDS has been a success story for many years: After the illegal blood transfusion business in the 90s in the 90s and hundreds of thousands were infected in so-called Aids villages, the government effectively intercepted the spread of AIDS in the meantime. Since 2003, treatment for those affected nationwide is free. The infection with blood donations and drug injections is now close to zero. In total, less than 0.1 percent of people in China are infected, the rate is one of the lowest in the world.

But now a new crisis is starting. In 2018, China reported 100,000 new cases, an increase of 14 percent over the previous year ( The Lancet : Zheng, 2018 ). Most of those affected are getting into sex today. And a risk group stands out in particular: men who sleep with men. In 2006 they accounted for 2.5 percent of all newly registered cases, since then their quota has increased tenfold. Among students and in cities, up to 80 percent of all new infections are gays.

The dark figure is likely to be even higher. Many did not even get tested, Zhang says: „We fish needles in the sea.“ Especially among the young and disadvantaged, the HIV virus is spreading rapidly, „very few of them would come up with the idea to seek advice in a hospital“. He and the helpers of his NGO are actively addressing them, here in Mudanyuan Park, at car shelters, in front of universities and in karaoke bars.