China / Society

AIDS education project for students passes the test

By Yang Wanli (China Daily) Updated: 2016-07-18 09:32

AIDS education project for students passes the test

Teacher Chen Hong discusses AIDS prevention with students at Longquanyi No 7 Middle School in Chengdu, Sichuan province. YANG WANLI/CHINA DAILY

A campaign to provide information and help prevent young people from becoming infected is paying dividends. Yang Wanli reports from Yunnan and Sichuan provinces.

'The enemy we are fighting is HIV/AIDS, instead of carriers (people who are HIV-positive) and patients (those with full-blown AIDS). Prejudice toward AIDS patients could be more harmful than the disease itself," said Jing Xi, a ninth-grade student at Longquanyi No 7 Middle School in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in Southwest China.

It was the first time the 14-year-old student had shared her opinions about AIDS with her teacher and classmates. Jing is one of tens of thousands of young Chinese who have benefited from the "Youth Love Station", a project sponsored by the AIDS Prevention Education Project for Chinese Youth, a nonprofit organization that provides education to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS among students.

The project uses sex education classes to give students a basic understanding of AIDS-how it attacks the immune system, the transmission routes and high-risk behavior, for example unsafe or unprotected sex, among both heterosexuals and homosexuals.

"It's the first time I have spoken about AIDS and sex in front of the students. I used to be very shy," said Chen Hong, the lecturer. After months of training, Chen can now use "sensitive words" such as penis and vagina without feeling embarrassed.

According to UNAIDS, the joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, nearly 6,000 new HIV/AIDS carriers are reported globally every day, and one in three are in the 15 to 24 age group.

"In the past decade, the total number of HIV/AIDS carriers has declined globally, but the proportion of young carriers has risen," said Chen Zhongdan, a strategic information adviser with UNAIDS.

From 2011 to 2015, the number of AIDS carriers in China ages 15 to 24 rose by 35 percent every year, and carriers ages 18 to 22 accounted for 65 percent of all cases, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

National focus

"Education about the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, especially AIDS, should be introduced for students at high schools and colleges nationally as soon as possible," said Wang Jinxin, director of the Sex Education Center at Chengdu Technological University.

"We cannot force students to withstand their hormonal changes. Sex cannot be prevented, but we can prevent unsafe sex," he said.

Unlike traditional methods of sex education, conducted via pamphlets and leaflets issued by local health centers, the aids education project is taking the initiative to explore new and more effective ways of promoting its message in schools.

Since it was established in 2006, the project has sponsored 681 Youth Love Stations nationwide, especially in regions severely hit by AIDS, including Yunnan, Sichuan and Guangxi. In 2014, they were ranked alongside Henan and Guangdong as the five provinces or regions with the highest number of new AIDS cases.

The project is active in nearly 200 elementary and middle schools in Yingjiang county, Yunnan, which lies on the China-Myanmar border close to the notorious "Golden Triangle", one of Asia's biggest opium production areas. As a result, the county has had a high number of people with AIDS and also used to have a problem with intravenous drug users.

"The county used to have many drug addicts. But now the number of cases is much lower," said Nie Yongxian, a teacher at Yingjiang Third Junior High School who arranges and presents sex education lectures for students.

Nie also travels to nearby villages once a month to give lectures to local residents. She employs a wide range of teaching methods, including movies, stories, dramatic sketches and folk rhymes in the local dialect with lyrics about HIV/AIDS.

Last year, no cases of drug addiction were reported in Hejie New Village, an indication of the success of Nie's lecture, which was attended by a large number of residents.

"The teacher used props to show how the virus attacks our immune system-the picture she drew was so vivid," said Duan Hongmei, 34, who took several members of her family to the packed lecture.

"The information is very useful. Listening to a lecture in the evening is much more interesting than being a couch potato. Lots of people were unwilling to leave when it ended, even though it was after 10 pm," she said.

Because more than 50 percent of Yingjiang's residents are member of ethnic groups, such as the Dai and the Jingpo, many people have a poor understanding of Mandarin. The language barrier prompted the project's leaders to train a number of bilingual teachers, a move that has been warmly welcomed.

Strong support

In Sichuan, the AIDS prevention and anti-drugs campaign has gained strong support among college students.

The Youth Love Station at Chengdu Technological University runs a club for students called "To Know, To Love", which holds summer camps and regular seminars to spread information about safe sex and disease prevention.

The university is one of a small number in China that offer sex education as an optional course for students.

"However, the course is usually full just a few minutes after notification is posted online," said Zhang Xueyou, a sophomore who leads the club. "Since the number of students who can join the class is so small, we run the club to spread knowledge among a larger number of people."

Zhang Yinjun, president of the AIDS education project, said parents can play a crucial role in safeguarding their children, and the Youth Love Station in Chengdu has invited them to participate in the project.

"AIDS used to be a sensitive topic among adults. They believed that their kids were obedient and well-behaved. Therefore they had little chance of becoming infected," she said.

But after participating in the class, many parents no longer hesitate to ask the teacher questions such as "What do we do if our child gets infected with AIDS?"

"They are willing to teach their children, and that has encouraged us to better implement the program. In the battle against AIDS, we are all in it together," Zhang said.

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