KUNMING, Nov. 30 (Xinhua) -- Wearing high heels and black leggings, 39-year-old Zhang Lin looks just as composed and classy as any other working woman in the city of Ruili in southwest China's Yunnan province.
But just seven years ago, Zhang was wracked by depression and anger, unable even to leave her own home.
"For months, I couldn't get out of bed. I felt that my world had collapsed and that there was nothing to live for. I wanted to die," she said.
Zhang's husband died from AIDS in 2004, leaving her with an HIV infection and a 4-year-old son to care for on her own. Zhang's emotions ran from anger to denial in the first few months after she found out she had the disease.
"My late husband became very sick in September 2003 and was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. I was tested HIV-positive at the same time," she said.
"I couldn't believe that I was ill. I didn't do anything wrong," she said.
When her husband died in 2004, the reality of her condition began to kick in and Zhang began to receive anti-retroviral therapy (ART) in September that year, becoming the second HIV carrier in Ruili to receive the treatment.
After receiving the ART treatment and attending lectures on HIV/AIDS sponsored by AIDS Care China (ACC), a non-governmental organization aimed at supporting people with HIV/AIDS, Zhang gradually came to peace with the disease and began to face it positively.
She set up the Ruili Red Ribbon Home in May 2006 with the support of the ACC, the Ruili AIDS prevention and control bureau and the municipal center for disease control and prevention.
"Our NGO provides consultations and psychological support to people with HIV/AIDS, distributes medicine, visits patients in hospital and organizes group activities to help AIDS patients and HIV carriers bond with each other," said Zhang.
The Ruili Red Ribbon Home is currently helping 723 people living with HIV/AIDS and has helped over 900 people in total since its inception, Zhang said.
According to figures from the Ministry of Health, China registered 429,000 AIDS patients and HIV carriers as of the end of September, up by nearly 60,000 over the past 11 months.
In Ruili's Dai-Jingpo autonomous prefecture of Dehong, over 60,000 people were tested from January to October and 380 of them were found to be HIV-positive, said Zhang Miaoyun, head of the municipal AIDS prevention and control bureau.
"In 2010, we tested 31,000 people and found 390 new infections, while in 2009, 438 new cases were found among the 30,000 people taking the test," the official said, indicating that the number of new infections has been dropping.
RENEWING VIGOR FOR LIFE
"Most infected people want to shut other people out, so I've been sharing my own story with them, hoping they can identify with me and stop feeling like they've been shunned," Zhang said.
Zhang regained her own confidence and found a new purpose in life and love after starting her work at the NGO.
"I get a sense of fulfillment and self-worth doing what I do. I even met my new husband, another HIV carrier. We got married in early 2010," she said.
Zhang now resides with her new husband and her 11-year-old son in Ruili, living just next door to her parents-in-law from her first marriage.
"The parents of my late husband have been very supportive in my treatment, my work at the Red Ribbon and now my new marriage," Zhang said. "I am really grateful to have such a supportive family."
It took a long time for Zhang to come to terms with her illness and regain her desire to live, especially in a place where discrimination against HIV/AIDS is rampant.
In the border province of Yunnan, social stigma against HIV/AIDS is still widespread, as most of the previous sufferers of the disease were drug addicts and prostitutes.
"It was scary to be out there, organizing activities for the affected population and risk being exposed, but I overcame my fear," Zhang said.
Zhang's neighbors, with the exception of her parents-in-law, still don't know she is a carrier.
"It's not like knowing my status would help my neighbors in any way, so why burden them?" Zhang said.