AIDS infection exposed due to reuse of needles at Chinese blood banks
Angry local governments impose house arrest and hinder overseas travel
In 2007, President Hu Jintao went into self-exile after going to the United States with approval to leave the country.
Gao Yaojie, a prominent Chinese doctor and activist who exposed the spread of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) in rural China in the 1990s, died at the age of 95 at his home in the United States on the 10th (local time).
Gao’s revelations about the AIDS outbreak in China, which some say caused tens of thousands of people infected, embarrassed the Chinese government and ultimately forced her into self-exile in Manhattan, New York, for more than a decade.
Lin Shiyu, who compiled the autobiography written with Gao, told the Associated Press on the 11th that Gao’s guardian, Columbia University professor Andrew J. Nathan, confirmed Gao’s death. Nathan did not immediately respond to an emailed inquiry from The Associated Press.
Gao became China’s best-known AIDS activist after opposing a blood-selling plan that infected many people with the disease, mainly in China’s central province of Henan. Her contribution was recognized to some extent by the Chinese government, which eventually had to grapple with the AIDS crisis in the 2000s.
Gao’s work has been recognized by international organizations and officials. She moved to the United States in 2009 and began lecturing about her own experiences and writing her book.
“I resisted government pressure and continued to do what I had to do because everyone has a responsibility to help their own people,” she previously told The Associated Press. “As a doctor, that was my job, and it was worth it,” she said.
She also said, “We expect Chinese officials to face reality and deal with the problem realistically rather than cover it up.”
Gao, who was a traveling obstetrician and gynecologist who traveled to remote villages treating patients, met his first AIDS patient in 1996. This patient was a woman who became infected through a blood transfusion during her surgery. At the time, local blood bank operators in China often used dirty needles. Reusing used needles was a surefire way to spread the AIDS virus.
As she traveled from village to village investigating the AIDS crisis, she sometimes had to see the devastating effects of parents dying from AIDS and leaving their children alone. A national investigation could not be conducted as the Chinese government attempted to cover up the crisis, but it was estimated that tens of thousands of people were infected with AIDS at the time.
Her revelations attracted much local media attention, but angered local governments who often backed the reckless blood bank and blocked her from going abroad to run for prime minister. In 2001, the Chinese government refused to issue her a passport when she tried to go to the United States to receive her award from her United Nations organization, and in 2007, officials in her Henan province blocked her from receiving her U.S. visa by about 20 people. They even placed her under house arrest for several days. Nevertheless, she was eventually able to head to the United States when the central government allowed her to leave the country. Upon her arrival in Washington, D.C., Gao thanked then-President Hu Jintao for approving her departure.
When news of her death broke on the 11th, messages of condolence flooded Chinese social media, but some also criticized her departure to the United States and her criticism of the Chinese government.
“It can be said that Gao Yaojie gave everything for AIDS patients,” one commentator wrote on social media platform Weibo. “Anyone who has a conscience will always remember her,” he said.
Mark Jones is a world traveler and journalist for News Rebeat. With a curious mind and a love of adventure, Mark brings a unique perspective to the latest global events and provides in-depth and thought-provoking coverage of the world at large.