Fri, December 02, 2011
China > Mainland > 2011 World AIDS Day

Volunteers help Muslims in Xinjiang become more tolerant of HIV

2011-12-01 12:50:08 GMT2011-12-01 20:50:08(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

YINING, Xinjiang, Dec. 1 (Xinhua) -- Ayinuer, a 29-year-old Uygur, had no time for community volunteers intent on educating the public on HIV/AIDS seven years ago. In fact, she'd slam the door in their faces.

Ayinuer wasn't alone, as the disease was a taboo for the majority in the communities of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. People considered HIV carriers dirty.

Now Ayinuer is one of those volunteers, touring throughout the region, writing and performing plays and musicals based on actual HIV/AIDS patients' experiences to help raise awareness of the disease and remove its stigma.

She believes her efforts and those of her fellow volunteers have paid off, as people have started talking more openly about the disease, which in turn has decreased discrimination against those living with HIV/AIDS.

"We used to be threatened and sometimes assaulted when we went door-to-door to educate people," Ayinuer said. "But now people are talking about HIV more openly, and I've witnessed people moved to tears while watching our plays."

Ayinuer is one of 28 Red Cross volunteers in the region, but she never would have found herself here if the disease hadn't ravaged her own family.

In 2004 things seemed fine for Ayinuer. She had a husband who, despite a drug addiction, loved her, and a wonderful 7-month-old daughter. But then her husband found himself suffering constant fever and diarrhea.

"One afternoon he came home pale as a sheet and handed me a blood-test result. I couldn't move. He was HIV positive. I remember it like it happened yesterday," she said.

She cried and drowned herself in regret and self pity -- she considered suicide, many times. In the back of her mind she knew that she and her daughter might also be infected, but fear and ignorance prevented her from being tested.

They sent their daughter to live with relatives, isolated themselves for fear of spreading the disease, and refused to go to hospitals because they worried they might be locked up.

Several months after her husband's diagnosis, the situation remained bleak but stable, and volunteers from the Red Cross invited Ayinuer to an HIV/AIDS training course that upon completion would offer a subsidy.

She took the course only thinking of the much needed extra money for her cash-strapped family, yet the program empowered her through its de-mystification of HIV/AIDS.

Sadly, her husband died soon after she completed the course, but now she knew she had to muster the courage to be tested herself.

Ayinuer tested positive, and soon after her daughter did as well. This time there were no thoughts of suicide or self pity, only determination and responsibility.

After completing a more intensive training course, she became a full-time volunteer for the Red Cross.

"Now I understand the disease and its implications -- it can't simply be spread by sitting in the chair where an infected individual has been," she said. "The more I educate myself the more I start to feel that I'm not different from others -- having HIV doesn't make me less human."

Since 1999 when the Xinjiang Red Cross first started HIV/AIDS prevention, it has established a partnership with AIDS prevention organizations from Australia, Britain and Germany, trained hundreds of volunteers, and contributed greatly to the region's AIDS awareness cause.

"With years of promotion, people now know major transmission channels for AIDS, and many no longer look down upon AIDS patients," said Hailiman,director of the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care Center of Red Cross Society of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region branch.

According to Dilixiati, director of the local AIDS prevention and control working committee office under the regional Department of Health, the regional government has brought religious figures to 59 mosques in Xinjiang's high risk areas recently, and promoted HIV/AIDS related knowledge to more than 5,000 imams in the hopes of raising public awareness among Muslims.

The region has also carried out competitions among middle school students who are multilingual on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.

For Ayinuer, she devotes most of her her time and energy into her work and her life continues to improve. Last year on Dec. 1, which is also the World AIDS Day, she and an HIV-positive colleague got married.

"I still fear for the future every day, but I'm much more content with life now," she said. "He loves me and treats my daughter as his own."

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