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'Mother Peng' devoted to fight against HIV/AIDS

2014-03-20 08:51 China Daily Web Editor: Wang Fan

Beyond her title as China's first lady, Peng Liyuan is known for other things, such as being a prominent figure in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

She is the image ambassador of the National Health and Family Planning Commission for control and prevention of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis and the World Health Organization's ambassador in the fight against the deadly virus.

But for some Chinese children affected by HIV/AIDS, she is simply called "Mother Peng".

Her special friendship with such children dates back to 2006, when she was named as the image ambassador for the commission, which was then called the Ministry of Health. That year, Peng made her first visit to children affected by HIV/AIDS at the Fuyang AIDS Orphan Salvation Association in Anhui province.

Zhang Ying, head of the NGO she single-handedly founded about 10 years ago, said the memory of Peng's visit was still vivid.

Peng came in April 2006 after a long haul by air and car, Zhang recalled. In her three days with the children, who had lost their parents to HIV/AIDS or who themselves were HIV-positive, she sang, danced and drew pictures.

"Ambassador Peng holds deep and sincere affection for these children. She's like their mother," Zhang said.

Gao Jun, who was 3 years old at the time, began to call her "Mother Peng," after she hugged him gently. Gao suffered from full-blown AIDS and had lost both parents to the deadly disease.

"Her care for the children hasn't stopped since then," Zhang said. Peng would meet with the children about twice a year at various charity events, she said.

"Every time, she would bring gifts. She even picked different kinds for each child according to their gender and interests," she said.

Sometimes "she brought schoolbags stuffed with stationery and snacks. But there was never an empty bag," Zhang said. "I was deeply touched. She was so busy but still so considerate."

Zhang said she was inspired by Peng's care and affection to redouble her own efforts to help children.

"Her efforts will surely bring more public attention and care to the sufferers and deal a blow to existing social stigmas and discrimination," Zhang said.

At the 2006 World AIDS Conference, Peng characterized the children most in need of the public's care and support as innocent victims.

"Many of them got the virus directly from their mothers, and we should treat them affectionately and equally, playing and making friends with them as we do with healthy children," she said.

To learn more about the affected children's living conditions, Peng began making regular visits to areas hit hard by the disease, including Yunnan and Henan provinces.

An HIV/AIDS official of the top health authority, who didn't want to be named, said Peng mostly visited children in poor villages and continued to learn more about the disease and its treatment. "Her visits helped improve local HIV/AIDS intervention and treatment efforts," he said.

Zhang agreed. "Peng's efforts prompted me to stick to my course of helping children despite difficulty," she said. "We all see hope."

Deng Guosheng, director of Tsinghua University's NGO Research Center, said that many countries' first ladies devote time to philanthropic and charitable causes. "It's a wonderful thing for the first ladies to mobilize social resources to solve social problems," he said.

Deng added that the first ladies of China and the US are both enthusiastic about promoting public awareness of healthy lifestyles.

"I think philanthropy can be one of the interesting topics the first ladies can share with each other to deepen their friendship," he said.

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