Experts warns "sensationalizing AIDS reports" may stigmatize college students

15:23, July 19, 2010      

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Media reports that sensationalize the number of China's college students with AIDS are irresponsible and may lead to stigma and discrimination, experts and AIDS activists said Monday.

"There is no reason to believe college students are at greater risk than any other group," Tong Ge, president of China Gay Health Forum, said. "Some media are capitalizing on the public's interest in college students to 'heat up' their stories."

Some local media suggested early July that college students were at very high risk of catching the disease after eight out of 2,000 college students tested AIDS positive in Hangzhou, capital of east China's Zhejiang Province.

"From my research and reading, I have not found any evidence backing that theory. I don't see any significance in singling college students out as a particularly risky group," said Pan Suiming, head of Renmin University's Institute for Research on Sexuality and Gender.

Murong Feng, who is gay, HIV positive and an AIDS activist, worries the reports may put a stigma on college students. "Media tend to associate certain groups of people with AIDS -- drug users, prostitutes, gays, migrant workers and now college students. It is misleading."

"We need to focus on behaviors, not identity." Murong said.

Linking the risk with identity will lead to false beliefs such as "I'm safe because I'm not gay," or "Migrant workers are more likely to contract AIDS." But the fact is anyone can contract AIDS if he or she's behavior is unsafe, Tong said.

People in China are becoming sexually active at a younger age while many of them lack knowledge about AIDS prevention, including college students, contributing to the increase of AIDS among young people, said Li Yinhe, a leading sexology scholar with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"More people, old and young, are getting infected. As far as I' m aware, new sufferers include teenagers, even very small children, and very old people," Tong said.

AIDS is a challenge for everyone and needs to be dealt with by the whole society, not just within certain groups, he added.

In the last decade the number of HIV positive people in China has increased markedly. Presently the country has about 740,000 HIV sufferers, according to statistics from the Ministry of Health. However, new infections have declined from 70,000 in 2005 to 48,000 last year, thanks to the government's prevention policies and measures.



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