¡¡¡¡¡¡China Health News And the Henan Province Health Scandal Cover-up

Following is a summary translation. The full Chinese text is at  Chinese original text -- China Health News and the Henan Health Scandal Cover-up

by Wan Yanhai,  Coordinator for the Aizhi (Beijing) Action Program   January 20, 2001  Tuesday
Web site:  http://www.aizhi.org    Email: hiwan@public.bta.net.cn

[Note: Wan is author of an August 2000 Beijing Youth Daily article about HIV in Henan Province. End note]

Summary: Over the past year, Chinese media outside the health field, foreign media, web media and independent researchers have revealed many
problems  involving the sale of blood and AIDS in Henan Province.  They also revealed the responsibility that the Henan public health administration and it leading organization have for the spread of AIDS, and after AIDS appeared, the role of Henan Province Department of Health Director Liu Quanxi in suppressing the views of experts and mass media.  However, over the past two years, China Health News, which is controlled by the Chinese Ministry of Health,  made many reports about health in Henan Province.  However, that newspaper pretended not to know about and not even to have heard about how the sale of blood had led to the spread of HIV in that province.  On the contrary, China Health News continually reported how the health authorities in Henan Province were strengthening the management of hospitals, improving the blood safety assurance system, and represented Liu Quanxi as a man who was concerned  about the people's health and who was propelling reform forwards.  China Health News covered up the Henan Province public health scandal.  Official  web sites sites also kept silent about Henan AIDS and the sale of blood.

The Seriousness of the Problem

Today, the seriousness of the spread of the AIDS epidemic in Henan Province, China is well known.  People also know that because public health authorities participated in and organized the sale of blood that, according to experts,  500,000 to 700,000 people in Henan Province contracted the AIDS virus. (1).  AIDS has already become a Chinese national disaster. (2)

From the end of the 1970s until the middle of the 1990s, because of the negligence of the responsible authorities and the greed of the underground blood collection stations and of the "blood heads" who organized the sale of blood,  there was large scale uncontrolled and illegal sale of blood plasma in many villages in eastern and southern Henan Province.  This led directly to the eruption and spread of AIDS today. Some villages where illegal blood plasma sales were most common have today become AIDS villages. (3)

In 1992, the entire country was caught up in a get rich quick fever.  When Liu Quanxi, also anxious to get rich, became head of the Henan Provincial Department of Health, he set up a "reform office", a "development office", a "central blood station", a "Wanda Co.",  a "development center", a "biological pharmaceutical co." etc.  He described his way of thinking thus: "Depend upon official seals to get things done internally and depend upon selling blood to get things down externally". (4)
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"Depending upon official seals" means making full use of the power of he seal of the Henan Province Department of Health, issue without no scruples at all many permits all for the purpose of making a lot of money.  Relying on blood plasma means taking a large amount of blood plasma -- once the blood is taken, all that is needed is the blood plasma, so the red blood cells are returned to the person selling the blood. The plasma is sold to a pharmaceutical company. (5)

The Health Departments Cover Up the Truth

Although experts say that in 1994 HIV had already been discovered among Henan paid blood donors, but the health departments (including the Ministry of Health, the Henan Province Department of Health and County Health Bureaus) for a long time strove to hide the truth. (6)

The Henan Province AIDS Prevention Institute web site (7) presented information on the AIDS epidemic around the world and in China but did not discuss HIV in Henan Province at all. Still less did it mention the link between this problem and the responsibility of the public health administration and medical organizations in the involving the sale of blood.

On the China Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDS Prevention Information Network web site (8),  the  seriousness of the AIDS epidemic in Henan Province was not stressed.  On that web site,  Henan Province is just a province that is included in the AIDS epidemic statistics and prevention projects.  There is no hint that Henan Province is a big epidemic disaster area that needs special attention.  Interestingly enough, the China Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDS Prevention Information Network web site promoted a drink from Henan Province that is supposed to strengthen the immune system. (9)

China Health News [Zhongguo Jiankang Bao] , a newspaper under the Chinese Ministry of Health  did not expose the seriousness of AIDS and the sale of blood in Henan Province.  Even worse, many times it described how the public health authorities in Henan Province were making a "Great Leap Forward" in strengthening the management of medical organizations, effectively implementing "voluntary blood donation", and ensuring the safety of the blood supply.  It seemed as if AIDS was hardly present at all in Henan.  This article will make a special analysis of China Health News reporting on health in Henan Province.

A health worker in Shangsai County, Henan said to ESTOFF, "We don't have any AIDS in this county. Our preventive work has been very effective". (11)

[Note: The acronym ESTOFF refers to a U.S. Embassy Beijing Environment, Science and Technology Section officer. End note]

Maintaining Secrecy and Revealing Secrets

The Ministry of Health along with some other ministries and commissions promulgated  Section 20 of the "Regulations on the Monitoring and Management of AIDS" which stipulates that "Information about the AIDS epidemic in China is released only by the Chinese Ministry of Health."  China's health departments for a long time treated information about the epidemic as top secret and did not release this information to the public although there was no clear legal basis for secrecy. (13)  A Chinese health official said to ESTOFF that revealing health information about certain areas would be a criminal offense (14) .

However at the beginning of last year, information about the AIDS situation in Henan Province was gradually revealed by the media.  Thus far these revelations have been made by media outside the public health sector.  The reporting has been done by media in areas seriously affected by the epidemic and by the international media.  The principal reports include:

  • "A "Strange Illness" in a Certain Henan Village Shocks Top Leaders, Over 1000 Paid Blood Donors Caught Up in A Disaster" by Zhang Jicheng et al., Changsha Evening News,  January 21, 2000
  • "AIDS in Henan" ,  Dahe Bao Newsweekly, May 14, 2000
  • "AIDS: A New National Disaster" by Zhang Jie, Chang Jingping, "China Newsweekly" No. 18, August 18, 2000
  • "Strange Illness", by Li Yuxiao,  Southern Weekend,  November 30, 2000
  • In Rural China, a Steep Price of Poverty: Dying of AIDS, by Elisabeth Rosenthal, New York Times, October 28, 2000
  • The High Cost of Selling Blood: As AIDS Crisis Looms in China, Official Response Is Lax, By John Pomfret, January 11, 2001
  • "Revealing the "Blood Wound" of the Spread of HIV AIDS in Henan Province By He Aifang
  • On the famous Yahoo web site (15),  using the search terms "AIDS" and "Henan" 668 web pages turned up. When a search was made on the phrase "AIDS in Henan" there were 493 hits.
  • On the U.S. Embassy Beijing web page, there is a detailed analysis of the AIDS epidemic in China and in Henan Province, including the AIDS epidemic induced by the selling of blood. (16)
  • Independent AIDS researchers and educators (Gui Xien and Gao Yaojie) exposed the true story of the spread of HIV in Henan Province (17).  The Beijing Aizhi Action Campaign actively supported the revelation of the Henan AIDS situation. (18).
  • A Study of China Health News

    Presentation of the problem:

    On January 12, 2001,  the China Health News ran a story by Ceng Fanyu entitled, "Henan Strictly Regulates Medical Organizations" disturbed and shocked me.  World opinion is focused on how Henan Province Department of Health organized the sale of blood that led to the spread of AIDS in the province.  China Health News, which is under the Ministry of Health which controls health matters in China was simply "looking without seeing and hearing without listening".  The newspaper even seemed to be trying to cover up the mistakes of the local public health administration. Therefore, using the online edition of China Health News (20),   I did an analysis of the treatment of the sale of blood and the AIDS epidemic in Henan as reported in that newspaper over the past two years.
     

    Research methods:

    I got into the China Health News web site and entered the database. I did searches in the newspaper for the period January 1, 1999 to January 13, 2001 (in 20 - 30 day chunks) (the search was done over three days).  In the "title" window and the "contents" window I put in search words  such as "Henan", "selling blood", "AIDS" and "Liu Quanxi" (the director of the Henan Province Health Department) etc. Then I saved the articles to read and analyze later.  A fuller examination of the treatment of the selling of blood and AIDS in Henan Province in the China Health News would have to include articles published in the printed edition of China Health News before the web edition of China Health News went online in 1999.

    [Note: Many pages from the Chinese text are omitted here.  Following an extensive study of China Health News articles which present a positive picture of the work of the Henan Health Department and even describe of a "Great Leap Forward" in Henan Province public health,  Wang Yanhai presents the following conclusions and suggestions. End note]

    Conclusions:

    1. During the past year,  the media disclosed how blood sales in Henan Province led to the outbreak of HIV there but it was the media outside the health sector,  both Chinese and foreign, that made the disclosures.  China Health News, as the media  outlet specializing in the medical, pharmaceutical and public health sectors, did not report on the national disaster and human tragedy that was going on in Henan Province.  China Health News was even quite restrained in its reporting about how contaminated blood had led to the spread of HIV in other parts of China.

    2.  Over the past two years, China Health News has made many reports about medical and health affairs in Henan Province. These reports all praised the achievements of the health administrations in Henan Province, but these reports are not credible.  According to those reports, we are to understand that after the "Blood Donation Law" was promulgated, Henan Province health administrations and their leaders took some measure to ensure that the "Blood Donation Law" was implemented, to ensure the safety of the blood supply, and to control the spread of blood borne diseases.  The reliability of those reports is highly doubtful.  China Health News described a kind of "Great Leap Forward" in human behavior  from government organized  paid blood donation to a government campaign to mobilize the entire population to make "voluntary free blood donations". We feel that the question must be asked -- how is it that the behavior of the people of Henan Province is so very easy to change?

    3.  According to China Health News, Liu Quanxi, the director of the Henan Province Health Department is an official selflessly dedicated to public health.  And that he is not a corrupt official who broke the law and harmed the health of the people. However, reports by other media and independent research by experts shows that AIDS spread in Henan Province precisely because of the corruption and professional negligence of Liu Quanxi and that Liu Quanxi should be subject to criminal sanctions.

    4.  China Health News is a press organ that reports happy news but suppresses worrisome news. As the tongue of the public health departments, China Health News does not put the health of the people first but is concerned first of all with supporting the public health field and the image of its leaders. It has gone to that point that today on the issue of AIDS in Henan Province and the problem of blood safety, China Health News support of the public health field and the image of its leaders is in direct conflict with the interests of the health and interests of the Chinese people.

    5.  The negative aspects of the work of the Henan Province Department and its leader Liu Quanxi on blood safety and HIV control in Henan Province far outweigh its positive aspects.

    Suggestions:

    1.  For China Health News:  End the style of reporting only happy news and repressing the worrisome.  Make a thorough investigation of the HIV/AIDS and blood safety issues in Henan Province. Shoulder its responsibility for the health of the Chinese people. Investigate the China Health News correspondent in Henan to determine if that correspondent was making false reports.  In future work, make the newspaper's criterion the welfare of the people and not the support of the image of the health sector and not helping to cover-up the shame of the health sector.

    2.   To the people: Write letter to China Health News, asking them to change their attitude with suggestion one in mind.  China Health News contact points are
    Editor-in-Chief:  Bai Yun  Telephone: 86-10-6462-0055 Fax: 86-10-6467-0947  Address: China Health News,  Dongzhimen Wai Xiao Jie No. Jia-6,
    Beijing 100027,  Email:  wljs@jkb.com.cn   China Health News web site  http://www.jkb.com.cn

    Write letters to the State Council and to the Ministry of Health.  If China Health News does not change its attitude, suggestion that the government funding to the newspaper be eliminated so that the people's tax money won't be used to cover-up the deeds of corrupt officials.

    Write letters to the Henan Provincial government, asking that Public Health Department Director Liu Quanxi be fired. Write letters to the Henan Province Procuratorate asking that an investigation and prosecution of Liu Quanxi be undertaken for organizing the sale of blood that led to the spread of HIV in Henan Province so that criminal and administrative sanctions can be applied.

    3.  Write to the Henan Province Department of Public Health asking that the people be told the true situation and not lies. Tell the Department of Public Health that it must face up to AIDS and blood contamination in Henan Province, strengthen the management of medical and health organizations, strengthen public education about HIV,  support research and education by civil organizations and independent researchers on HIV/AIDS and call for the voluntary resignation of Public Health Department Director Liu Quanxi.

    [Note: Following the report are the full texts or URLs of several articles on HIV/AIDS in Henan Province, led by  Revealing the Blood Wound of the Spread of AIDS in Henan Province (in Chinese at  http://www.aizhi.org/jkwz/bloodwound.txt,  the August 18, 2000 China News Weekly article "AIDS: China's New Disaster", the November 30, 2000 Southern Weekend article "The Strange Illness",  and the U.S. Embassy Beijing report PRC Henan Rural County: No AIDS Here? An April 2000 report from U.S. Embassy Beijing  http://www.usembassy-china.org.cn/english/sandt/aidsshangsai.htm End note ]