While in Nabang, Shortt witnessed 36 people being tested for HIV. On the day
she was there, three people were found to be positive (Yunnan accounts for
one third of China's AIDS cases). Girls and women are given bags as gifts for
taking part, which include useful items such as sanitary towels, condoms and
toothpaste. It's a small gesture, but one that seems to delight them.
Shortt, who speaks fluent Mandarin, was also able to cross the river to document
related projects in the Burma border town of Laiza, where the NGO Health
Unlimited (HU) has set up a drop-in centre. As part of their prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programme, HU provides free antiretroviral
drugs for pregnant women. Shortt met two women who have undergone the
treatment, one whose child has tested negative, the other whose child will
be tested in one year's time, with, it is hoped, the same result.
Drug addiction is also rife in the area; there are three opium dens in Nabang
alone. Another project Shortt visited, across the Lazan River in Laizi, was a
rehabilitation centre, which is also a farm, where residents undergoing treatment
tend pigs and grow vegetables, which they can eventually sell to generate an income. She met a Burmese man called Lao Si, who had decided he
wanted to quit heroin and opium. He was granted access to the farm, on
the condition that he stayed clean for the duration of his stay. Lao Si's wife,
who had refused to see him in recent months, was very supportive of his
decision, and made the long journey from their family home in Burma to help
her husband to move his belongings from a temporary shelter in Nabang.
Shortt saw Lao Si on the second day of his treatment, when he had gone
"cold turkey", so he was feeling very weak and anxious, but she has since
heard that he has been doing well, and has stayed clean since July 2010.
The farm has helped 103 people to find a path out of addiction, and has
a 40 percent success rate.
Shortt was heartened to find positive stories amid a rather bleak
landscape. "Since the arrival of Health Unlimited, HIV rates have dropped
in the region, which is in part due to the needle exchange," she said.
She found further innovation at the Ruili Centre. Ruili is another border
town, and has become a hub for construction workers. Shortt witnessed
nighttime engagement programmes, in which Ruili staff brought along
interactive educational games to teach the travelling men about safe
While a generation of people inhabiting the Yunnan province are now
being helped in a variety of ways, it is always encouraging to think about
how life might be better for those that come after.
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South West China HIV