November 30, 2009

The World AIDS Day Project: Anatomy of an AIDS Activist

by G.L. Morrison

AIDS activists are a diverse group. The faces, the voices, the hearts, the minds, the goals vary from each to each, but they all have one thing in common: the courage to act on their convictions. What does one look like? Anyone. Everyone. Take a look in the mirror. It might even be you.

More Fists & Faces of AIDS Activists: From 8 years old to 80

Hydeia Broadbent
In 1988, Hydeia Broadbent was diagnosed with HIV. She was three. Very little was known about AIDS in general, and pediatric HIV/AIDS was almost unheard of. Hydeia’s adoptive parents, the Broadbents, were told no treatment was possible. The only AIDS drug at that time, AZT, was not for children. Hydeia was not predicted to live past age five.

Difficulties inspired Patricia Broadbent to activism, a fervor she passed to Hydeia. Incidents, including a kindergarten teacher who sprayed bleach in Hydeia’s face after the child sneezed, inspired her to form a non-profit called Reach Out (Relieving Every AIDS Child’s Hurt is Our Ultimate Task) to provide daycare and schooling for HIV/AIDS children and their siblings.

Not only did Hydeia beat the odds, she became one of the U.S.A.’s youngest AIDS activists when, at age 8, she co-authored a book with her mother titled You Can Get Past the Tears. As a teen activist, she outshone celebrities, and even spoke to the Republican National Convention. Hydeia is currently a vibrant, articulate and healthy college student.

Dr. Gao Yaojie
In 1996, Dr. Gao Yaojie, a former gynecologist (now nearly 90) came out of retirement when asked to consult on the baffling symptoms of a woman whom Dr. Gao realized had AIDS. This consultation lead to a one-woman anti-AIDS campaign that garnered Dr. Gao a number of international awards, several arrests and continued harassment by the Chinese government.

Investigating the source of infection, Gao discovered certain central Chinese villages where poor farmers supplemented their income by selling their blood to illegal blood banks. As many as 65 percent of the villagers became infected with HIV due to unsafe blood collection/transfusion practices. Local government was more interested in covering up than cleaning up the AIDS crisis. Journalists and doctors were banned. Ignoring the ban, Dr. Gao produced AIDS education materials (at her own expense) and visited “AIDS villages” to distribute medicine and arrange for the adoption of orphans.

Rather than welcoming her assistance, authorities offered a reward to villagers (500 yuan = US $60) for reporting her presence in the area. By the time the government formally acknowledged the problem, an estimated 65,000 people had contracted AIDS from blood-selling. Dr. Gao and other activists believe the numbers could be much higher.

According to Gao, the corrupt officials who covered up the AIDS crisis are traitors to their country: “When the Japanese controlled China, some people worked for them and said exactly what the Japanese wanted to hear. These people harmed their own nation. The people who tell lies today and those who worked for the Japanese are not really any different. Those officials who encouraged blood selling should be in prison, or even executed. Look: we’ve had a blood transfusion law for 10 years! How can they still encourage the illegal blood trade? What are these vampires doing in power, why are they still alive?”