Chinese medics offer treatment, hope in HIV/AIDS fight

BEIJING, Dec. 2 (Xinhua) — Li Li still remembers vividly the first time, 20 years ago, that she performed a caesarean section on a pregnant woman infected with HIV.

“I was so nervous at the operating table because I knew that HIV was different from other viruses,” said Li, director of the gynecology and obstetrics department of Beijing Ditan Hospital. With the encouragement and help of other experienced colleagues, however, she overcame her fear.

“It gave me a boost of confidence, and I began to face future operations calmly,” she said.

Tuesday marks the 33rd World AIDS Day, with all eyes on the HIV/AIDS fight.

Beijing Ditan Hospital specializes in infectious-disease treatment and receives patients with infectious diseases, including those infected with HIV. Among the parents of newborn babies each year, some are HIV carriers.

“More than 2,000 people gave birth at the gynecology and obstetrics department last year, and there were 18 people infected with HIV,” Li said, adding that of the more than 900 people who gave birth at the department in the first eight months of this year, eight were infected with HIV.

“Fortunately, we successfully prevented mother-to-child transmission of HIV in all these cases, and the babies are healthy,” Li said.

According to Li, doctors must stick to the strictest protection measures when they carry out deliveries or perform caesarean sections, with their bodies entirely covered with special surgical gowns, masks and goggles.

“Since the blood and body fluids of the infected carry the virus, we have to be careful enough to prevent them from splashing into eyes,” Li said. “Exposure usually occurs in the process of sewing up, and our hands are still vulnerable even when wearing two layers of gloves.”

Doctors like Li have contributed a lot to preventing the spread of the virus. According to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnant women infected with HIV can transmit the virus to infants through the placenta, secretions or breastfeeding. Without intervention, the chance of mother-to-child HIV transmission can be as high as 45 percent. However, with comprehensive interventions, this rate can be brought well below 0.5 percent.

What Li does is part of China’s larger effort in the fight against HIV/AIDS. There were 1.045 million existing HIV/AIDS cases in China by the end of October this year, according to the latest statistics from the National Health Commission.

China has made notable progress in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment over the past five years, with HIV transmission through blood transfusion basically eliminated, while mother-to-child transmission has reached an all-time low, according to Sun Chunlan, Chinese vice premier.

She added that more than 90 percent of AIDS patients have received medical attention and the overall HIV/AIDS epidemic situation remains at a low level.

But the fight goes beyond medical treatment. The psychological status of many HIV carriers and AIDS patients has also drawn attention.

Over the years, China has set up intervention teams all over the country to undertake publicity, counseling, consultation and assistance work to help the high-risk groups of AIDS.

To hundreds of HIV carriers and patients, Liu Jianning, 59, was the one backing them up in moments of mental crisis.

Liu has devoted himself to AIDS-prevention work since 2005 in Xihu District, city of Hangzhou, in east China’s Zhejiang Province. Before working for the local center for disease control and prevention, he was a clinic physician.

He mainly provides counselling to HIV carriers and AIDS patients, as well as informing them of their health condition.

“Disclosing the HIV-positive status is the best occasion to start managing HIV infections and the best time to deal with possible crises,” Liu said.

Liu has persisted in notifying people face to face, the moment the reports are issued by the local disease control center or medical institutions confirming them as HIV-positive.

“Many people have broken down the moment they learned that they or their family members were infected with HIV,” said Liu. “And I was there to provide psychological counseling for them.”

Over more than a decade, he has handled up to 1,000 emergency cases involving depression, resistance to treatment and suicide attempts.

In the process of helping those in need, most have become his friends.

“If it were not for your counseling, I would not have made it through the darkest moments,” one AIDS patient texted him earlier last year.

The message touched Liu deeply and inspired him to continue to do voluntary work for AIDS prevention and control after retirement, in order to help infected people return to their families and society.

“We shall not neglect anyone who is infected, and neither will we give up on any of them,” he said.

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