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China launches youth AIDS campaign with a global impact

© UNICEF China/2006/Li Mingfang
UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot (centre), launches the UNITE FOR CHILDREN UNITE AGAINST AIDS campaign with China’s AIDS Ambassadors (from left) Xu Fan, Peng Liyuan, Pu Cunxin and Cai Guoqing.

By Zhang Lei

BEIJING, China, 21 September 2006 – The global UNITE FOR CHILDREN  UNITE AGAINST AIDS campaign was launched last week in China, the world’s most populous country. During the ceremony, which was held here in the capital, Vice Minister of Health Huang Jiefu pledged the government's commitment to putting children at the forefront of the fight against HIV and AIDS.

Also at the launch event, Huang Xinlei, a young boy from central China, described how AIDS had changed his life. Both of his parents died from the disease, he said, leaving him an orphan subject to discrimination and stigma.

To the packed audience of young people, government officials and representatives from non-governmental organizations and UN agencies, Xinlei shared his dream of becoming a doctor so that he can protect children from the kind of pain he has endured.

© UNICEF China/2006/Li Mingfang
During the launch ceremony, China's AIDS Ambassador Peng Liyuan holds up a drawing given to her by a girl orphaned by AIDS.
Progress against AIDS

Paediatric AIDS treatments became available in China in 2005, and more than 300 children are now receiving HIV drugs and treatments. At the same time, the number of counties equipped to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV has doubled, and free schooling is offered to 95 per cent of children who have lost parents to AIDS.

"AIDS affects adolescents and young adults disproportionately,” stated UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot. “Just as in the rest of the world, China is finally listening to the message that we must act now or pay later.”

The official government figure puts China's population living with HIV at 650,000. Although almost half of all new infections occur among young people, studies show that youths still lack the knowledge and skills to protect themselves.

Earlier this year, China’s first-ever AIDS Youth Ambassadors launched their own network to support the UNITE FOR CHILDREN  UNITE AGAINST AIDS campaign and raise HIV awareness among young people.

© UNICEF China/2006/Li Mingfang
At the campaign launch in China, young people pledged to learn the facts about AIDS, share their knowledge with others and care for children affected by the disease.
‘A force for change’

To address the complexity and magnitude of the pandemic’s impact on children and young people, the Chinese Government has developed the Children and AIDS Strategy, a five-year programme that is part of the country’s overall AIDS response. The strategy emphasizes prevention and has made the reduction of stigma and discrimination a top priority.

Discrimination remains a major hurdle in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Stigma associated with the disease adds to the suffering of the afflicted and prevents young people from learning how to protect themselves.

“Critical to China's success to halt the spread of HIV will be the government's leadership on prevention, and young people's commitment to be a force for change," remarked UNICEF’s HIV/AIDS Advisor for the East Asia and the Pacific region, Wing-Sie Cheng.

Experts agree that success here will change not only China but the entire world, as the country’s 320 million young people account for nearly 20 per cent of the global youth population.




20 September 2006:
UNICEF's Zhang Lei reports on the launch of the UNITE FOR CHILDREN  UNITE AGAINST AIDS campaign in China.
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