The HIV Fraudsters in China

(Southern Weekend)  Warning!  Using The Name of "HIV" To Commit Fraud.  By Shen Ying (沈颖).  December 1, 2005.

(Narrated by Gao Yaojie 高耀洁)

I have been fighting to prevent AIDS/HIV for some years.  I have had to deal with fraudsters in those same years.

From October 15, 1999 up to now, over more than six years, I have received more than 10,000 letters, of which about 1,000 came from fraudsters.

They invoke the name of practicising medicine to use various tricks, such as finding a "famous person" for doing some calligraphy, or wildly boasting about a family "secret formula" or proclaiming that they have "found the cure for AIDS with a 100% effective medicine made by themselves" and "if you have AIDS, you can just sit on the chair that he invented and you will be cured after rocking a few times on it."

One person who does not even have to right to practice medicine claimed to be a "national treasure" because he invented a medicinal liquor that can cure AIDS.  He wrote me to get me to collaborate with him in order to "make big money."  In truth, the patients who drank his medicinal liquor die even more quickly.

When I publicly exposed his deceptive tricks to make money off AIDS, he sued me for ruining his reputation.  After he lost his case, he set up a special website just to curse me every day.

I am even more worried about the "sophisticated fraudsters" that have newly emerged.  They smartly set up various types of traps to make money from AIDS.  Even I have been deceived a few times.

His name is Lao Qian.  In March 2001, I went to the countryside to investigage the AIDS epidemic situation, and I got to know him.  He had five children.  The second and fifth child as well as two nephews have AIDS from selling blood.  The second child and the nephews are now dead.

I sympathized with him.  He was a grassroots village cadre.  I trusted him.  He wanted to promote AIDS awareness, so I sent him a lot of materials.  This year, he said that he wanted to set up a library in the village, so I gave him many books.  Each time he came, I would give him some money, from as little as 50 yuan to as much as 200 yuan.

In the spring of 2005, he changed.  An AIDS prevention organization assisted him with money, and his business card read: "President of the AIDS Assistance Association in village XX, county YY."  Later on, some villager told me: "This person was the ring leader of the 'underground blood station' in the 1990's."

Afterwards, when he came to see me, he said that he did not want any books and he only wanted money.

On August 31, I received a letter of denunciation from a villager in Lao Qian's village, saying that Lao Qin abused his power for distributing the subsidies from the national government to the AIDS patients and surviving orphans and family members.  He withheld money from everyone over the long term, from as few as 10 yuan to as much as 70 yuan.  He had several relatives who pretended that they are AIDS patients in order to obtain government subsidies.  Recently, he even used money to procure the job of "village director" for his son.

Among the large group of liars in the masses, there is a person with HIV infection who openly blackmail the people who come to help him for more than 10,000 yuan.  There are foster parents who solicit donations from society for adopting AIDS orphans.  There was a child to whom I sent money each year in order to get him through middle school, but I found out that his uncle took all the money that I sent him and gambled it away.  Meanwhile, the child was digging sand at the river, and his backbone is curved from the work.

There is a girl named Gao Li who was adopted by a couple in Shandong.  I thought that she was going to lead a stable life.  I did not imagine that the adopting family would treat her like a money-maker.  In winter, she gets less than 4 yuan for food a day.

I am already 79 years old.  During the past two years, I have met many evil-intentioned people who want to be my "successor."  They write and they call, and they want to "follow me."  They want to use my name to set up a foundation to accept donations from the outside.

They usually advise me: "You are old, and the AIDS prevention work should be done by younger people.  I think I am the best qualified person."  Among these people, there are Chinese medicine practitioners most of all, but also government cadres.  But when I checked them on their knowledge about the AIDS epidemic or AIDS prevention, they know nothing.

The even more brilliant trap is to use the AIDS patients and the AIDS orphans to set up certain organizations to get public sympathy and commit fraud.

There is a middle-aged man named Zhang Cai (a pseudonym).  He was a rural peasant and he worked in Beijing in the 1990's.  He may not be very literate, but he is very smart.  He claimed to be a  member of the "Beijing Concern for the Next Generation" committee.  He called me many times to talk about the problems of AIDS patients and orphans and how he wanted to help them.  He claimed that he set up a "Care Center" in his home town of Nanyang with his own money to provide free medicine to AIDS patients.

I went to his home to check.  He has a nice new home with a courtyard.  I asked him where the AIDS patients and orphans were, and he said: "They'll be coming soon ..."  I waited for a whole day, and I did not see anyone coming to Zhang Cai's home.

In November 2004, I went to see many of the people at the Beijing Concern for the Next Generation committee.  They do not know of Zhang Cai.

Recently, a student at the Beijing Geology University told me that Zhang Cai is practicing fraud in Beijing.  He rented a place in the Fangshan district of Beijing to set up a so-called "Beijing Concern for the Next Generation Youth Health Research Center" and he has been soliciting donations from foreign embassies and various universities through emails.  This student said that many students believed this to be true and offered sympathy and support.  Some even saved the few yuan for their own meals to help Zhang.  This student went to the so-called research center and found an empty room without any AIDS prevention promotional material.

I want to write something to tell the truth.  Someone stopped me: "When people find out, who is going to put money into the AIDS project?"  But I cannot stand to watch these traps spread out.

There are organizations that are truly earnest about serving people with AIDS, but they are fewer in numbers than those so-called assistance groups that have no conscience.  I hope that the government can set up laws to protect the good organizations and eliminate the bad organizations.

As I said before, I am not setting up any organizations.  I am doing AIDS prevention work as an individual.  I am so old already.  I hope I can keep an innocent good name.

Interview with Tsinghua University professor and AIDS prevention specialist Li Shun (李楯)

Reporter: Dr. Gao is vexed by the fraudulent schemes that she has encountered, and she even sighed in wonder about whom she can trust.  How do you see it?

Li: Dr. Gao Yaojie has been doing the frontline work in AIDS prevention over many years.  I respect her greatly.  The fraudulent schemes that she has come across reflect an existing problem about AIDS.  The corresponding result of the AIDS traps found by Dr. Gao is that I have discovered that many organizations and people who went into the epidemic zones earlier no longer dare to go there to offer help.  They received false statistics about the number of AIDS patients.  They were given unreasonable demands made by local peasants, such as tp help them to purchase cars or get jobs.  They couldn't deal with it anymore.

On this, we cannot simply blame it on public more, and we cannot blame it on poverty, although the quality of the people is the "soft restriction" on AIDS prevention work to a certain extent.  Apart from morality, the behavior of people should be restricted by law.  The AIDS patients, their families and those people and organizations which assist AIDS patients cannot go beyond the law.  Therefore, the government needs to consider which types of actions are required to eliminate the phenomenon.  I am even more concerned about how society can solve the "hard conditions" in AIDS prevention.

For example, we have not built a total social security system that fully covers the urban and rural areas, because China still maintains the old system that splits the urban and rural areas.  Presently, medical and health insurance only covers 6% of the population in the country.  This is a major issue that needs to be studied.  A sound social security is the most effective thing to fight against AIDS as well as provide the systematic protection against the losses to individuals and families as a result of AIDS.

Reporter: Among the "AIDS traps" that Dr. Gao found, a number of people with personal interests have infiltrated the volunteer organizations.  Is this phenomenon also a factor that belongs to the "hard conditions"?

Li: Since the corresponding law is missing, the NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) that exist are unregistered and therefore illegal.  Some of there can only register as commercial entities.  This situation leads to confusion.

On the problem of AIDS prevention, the biggest problem is the relative lack of public participation.  The NGOs in China are still in the infantile stage, and the space for public welfare work is also in the process of growing.  Outside of China, the various NGOs form a very potent force to solve the AIDS problem.  Even in Thailand, the space for public welfare work is larger.  The AIDS problem is testing the ability of the government to coordinate.  For AIDS prevention, there are many things that only NGOs can do, such as handing out condoms to sex workers and providing methadone and clean needles to people who depend on drugs.  Outside of China, that is done by NGOs.  In China, in practice, it is up to the government and a small number of NGOs that receive foreign funding.  When the NGOs do the work, the results are good.  Can it be broadened?  Very hard -- the Civil Affairs Bureau will not allow these organizations to be formed.

Reporter: You have previously expressed a viewpoint: there are now "people who make a living from AIDS."  What do you mean?

Li: More and more capital is being invested into AIDS prevention by the Chinese government and NGOs such as international organizations and foreign foundations.  Some people are already concerned that AIDS cure and prevention would become the same type of "industry" like global poverty relief over the past few years?  Would people fight for a piece of the AIDS pie?  AIDS research should not become low-quality replications.  For example, certain programs did not seriously look at previous research results before starting and after huge amounts of resources and efforts, it was found that someone else had already done the research.  I joined a two-day conference which expended several tens of thousands of American dollars.  Is that necessary?

It is not necessarily a bad thing to make a living from AIDS.  But you should be able to make some contribution to earn your living.  You cannot just consume the resources without benefiting the HIV-infected people, the patients and those vulnerable to being infected.  It would be a big waste not to make the limited investment be shared by the people and besides, this is creating even more problems.  In China, the AIDS public interest programs should have transparent information so that the public can see whether the investments and results are proper.

Reporter: From the time when the first AIDS patient appeared in China in 1984, it has been 20 years exactly.  How do you assess the policy changes by the government in the AIDS area?

Li: If we comb through the changes in the government policies towards AIDS over the past 20 years, we can see that there were four stages.  From the first discovery and then acknowledgement of AIDS; in the second stage, it was found that AIDS can be spread by drug taking, and so drug enforcement was increased; in the third stage, it was discovered that blood selling caused AIDS infection, and so they began to clean up the blood donation stations; finally, we come to the "Four reliefs and one care," which is a huge improvement.  The Chinese government promised to have eight programs at the United Nationals Millennial Summit Meeting.  The sixth program was the promise concerning AIDS prevention and cure.  After SARS, the government recognizes even more that the government is responsible for the health and medical expenses of the people.  This is a qualitative change in that our government has altered its functional role to focus on the people and pay attention to the people's right to health.