China's Yunnan province is defined in part by the feeling of transience it exudes, as the gateway for much traffic - legal, illegal, human, commodities - coming and going between three countries that border it: Laos, Vietnam and Burma. The border regions are the main routes for drug trafficking, used to move heroin from the so-called "Golden Triangle" into China. Many thousands of people move in and out of the province on a daily basis as migrant workers.

China's Yunnan province is defined in part by the feeling of transience it exudes, as the gateway for much traffic - legal, illegal, human, commodities - coming and going between three countries that border it: Laos, Vietnam and Burma. The border regions are the main routes for drug trafficking, used to move heroin from the so-called "Golden Triangle" into China. Many thousands of people move in and out of the province on a daily basis as migrant workers.

China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is the world's most populous country, with a population of over 1.3 billion. Covering approximately 9.6 million square kilometres, the East Asian state is the world's second-largest country by land area, and the third- or fourth-largest in total area, depending on the definition of total area.

Wherever there are men working away from home, an attendant industry springs up: prostitution. Unsafe sexual practices prevail to the extent that Yunnan province is in the unenviable position of being at the epicentre of China's HIV/AIDS upsurge. Photographer Kate Shortt was struck by the extent of the brothel culture in Nabang, which has turned into a bleak no-man's land right on the border of China and Burma (Nabang is governed by China).Three streets run parallel with the border crossing itself, one of which, to the north, is known as the Red Light District, taken up entirely by girls posing provocatively in shop windows. There are eight brothels in total, serviced by some 50 sex workers. She spoke to one of the young women:

"She told me her name, and that she was 21," says Shortt. "She had come from Bagu, in Burma, five days away by train and one day by boat from Nabang. She was married when she was 16, an arranged marriage, but they loved each other. Her husband died two years later, fighting in the army. Since then she has been coming to Nabang to work every few months. Her mother, who looks after her four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter while she is away, thinks her daughter works as a waitress, or selling clothes."

Alan McCormick

She is 21 and came to Nabang from Bagu in Burma, a six day journey by train and boat. Married at 16, it was an arranged marriaged but a loving one until her husband was killed two years later, fighting in the army. She has been coming to Nabang every few months to work while her mother, who believes she is a waitress, looks after her four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter."

Kate Shortt, Photographer

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 sexual practices.

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.


Keep Reading

  1. News Article

    United Voices: The Story of the END Fund

    LEARN MORE

  2. News Article

    The END Fund Launches to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases in Africa

    LEARN MORE

  3. Strategic Initiative

    Côte d’Ivoire HIV/AIDS

    LEARN MORE

^
TOP