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Great Wall hike raises awareness for HIV/AIDS(2)

2014-09-24 11:29 Global Times Web Editor: Qian Ruisha
Walkers settle down to lunch, with one participant taking the opportunity to strum his guitar. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Walkers settle down to lunch, with one participant taking the opportunity to strum his guitar. Photo: Li Hao/GT

"We are interested in people with HIV getting good care and treatment," he said.

Shepard said he had participated in similar events in the US.

"Only this one happens at the Great Wall. This one is more strenuous," he laughed.

The power of hugs

Along the Great Wall, the marchers stopped to mingle, take photographs and exchange hugs with tourists who just happened to be visiting the historical site. Tourists were told that it was completely safe to hug and kiss a HIV/AIDS infected person.

One of the tourists who was happy to share a hug was Cedric Fang, 24, who works in the IT industry.

"I don't know much about AIDS. I don't know about its routes of transmission actually," he said. "But I trust that the people here care about other people's well-being."

The act of hugging someone who is infected with HIV/AIDS is seen as a symbolic gesture of inclusiveness, against the discrimination that many HIV/AIDS people face. At the same time, it dispels the myth that HIV/AIDS can be transmitted through mere physical contact.

"Usually, people are only motivated to learn about something when the need arises," said Fang. "So I think it's great that these events can help people to learn about the importance of such information."

HIV/AIDS is primarily transmitted via unprotected sexual intercourse, contaminated blood transfusion or hypodermic needles. It cannot be transmitted through the sharing of food or water, or through bodily fluids like saliva or tears.

The right to be happy

"Oftentimes, HIV-infected people look down on themselves," said Zhang Jinrong, who openly shares the fact that he is HIV positive.

Zhang is the founder of Rainbow China, a Hong Kong-based organization that is committed to educating the public about HIV/AIDS as well as advocating for equal rights for the LGBT community.

"It's not just that other people look at them differently - they set limits on themselves," said Zhang.

Zhang said many people who had been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS kept the information to themselves, for fear that their family members or friends would look harshly on them, or even disown them.

He said that events like the China AIDS Walk were invaluable in helping HIV/AIDS-infected people to view themselves in a more positive light.

"I've found if one person has enough self-esteem to live confidently and positively, it has an impact on other people's attitudes towards him or her," said Zhang. "I seldom ever meet people who will avoid me [just because I am HIV positive]."

The youngest participant on the China AIDS Walk was a 6-year-old girl, named Miaomiao (pseudonym). She did not hold any of the social prejudices about HIV/AIDS that make such events so necessary, and had no qualms about hugging Zhang.

"Although I don't know what AIDS is, I know that people who are sick shouldn't be treated badly," said Miaomiao. "They should be allowed to live happily too."

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