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Chinese Catholics are failing people living with HIV

Misinformation in society and the church is making life harder for people with the disease

Chinese Catholics are failing people living with HIV

There are many kinds of voluntary medical care provided by Taiyuen Diocese in Shanxi province but none for people living with HIV. (ucanews.com photo)  

ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
China

December 1, 2016

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The number of people living with HIV in China is rising while ignorance leads people, including Catholics, to marginalize those with the disease.

For Catholics who work with people living with human immunodeficiency virus, it’s frustrating to see their clients abused and too scared to seek treatment.

John Lu is a Catholic who works for people living with HIV in Xi’an, northwestern Shaanxi province, where there are about 10,000 people with the disease out of a population of nearly 38 million.

He formed the Home of Love Support Group for people living with the virus in 2010. It distributes information, helps people get tested and provides counseling to people who are diagnosed with the disease.

"Our online group has 230 people. I also joined a federation of about 20 groups, each group has more than a thousand people with the same problem," Lu said.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported in September that there were 654, 000 people living with HIV in China out of a population of 1.3 billion and numbers are increasing, according a report in state-run media on Nov. 30.

However, Lu said the actual number of people living with HIV should be more than 1 million given people’s reluctance to get tested. "Some of them do not know about testing while others want to escape from the reality," he told ucanews.com.

Unfortunately, misinformation and discrimination is still a problem in China and the church there, he added.

 

Ignorance and discrimination

Kenneth Cheung, who insisted that ucanews.com use his real name, is a gay Christian from Hong Kong, who has been living with HIV since 1995. He established Rainbow China in 2008 to assistant with HIV prevention and provide support in mainland China.

Cheung gave more than 600 speeches about HIV across China in 2015 and found that government health departments had been disseminating false information.

He took eastern Shandong province as an example. The province had distributed a leaflet saying that "gay people are promiscuous and that equals HIV," Cheung told ucanews.com.

"This kind of promotion happens all over China. It makes me feel powerless. Their so-called experts don’t even know what gay means," he said.

Even in the church community, Cheung said he has found intolerance and discrimination based on ignorance.

A priest in northern China said that the local diocese has no service for people living with HIV. If such people were known, they would be ostracized and forced to leave the area.  

Cheung said that Christian prejudice can be seen on social media. "They keep saying that gay people are sinners and HIV is a punishment from God. They also promote treatment to change gay people’s sexual orientation," he said.  

"I have met some gay Christians, with and without HIV, who were asked to leave the church or to confess and repent," he said.

Hui Taiyang, a Catholic in southern China, told ucanews.com that "there are no gay Catholics in my church. Maybe they feel pressured to avoid the community and not participate."

Since 90 percent of HIV transmission in China occurs during unprotected sex, church people link the disease with promiscuity and that results in fear and hatred, Lu said.

But the situation has been improving over the last two years, especially after the church went through the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which ended on Nov. 20, he said.

Nonetheless, the Catholic Church is currently unprepared to serve the needs of people living with HIV in China, he added.

"The church does a lot of charity work for them but it is superficial because they avoid becoming close to people living with HIV and understanding them. The biggest wish of people with the disease is for closeness and community," Lu said.  

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