AIDS Activist Imprisoned at Home

Filed in Uncategorized by on February 5, 2007 0 Comments

I could never forget the day I received a phone call from a senior editor from a national newspaper in China.  “I received and read your article about AIDS,” he said in a solemn voice, “I just need to check the accuracy of your article before I give the permission for publication.”

We had ten minutes conversation about the sources of my data and he was convinced its accuracy.  It was 1993, when China still new to AIDS and few people infected with HIV.  It was the golden time to prevent the epidemic to spread in the most populous country.  I was not a professional journalist but I have published several articles as a freelance journalist then.

I could not sleep that night and hoping the article get published on the newspaper so the public can read it.  But I also know the chances of publishing something like AIDS by a freelance journalist without medical school background was rather slim with its censorship.  I did substantial research during my trip to Hong Kong and I knew the information was accurate.

To my amazement, the article was published the following day and it was featured in the Health section.  I know I have done something good for the general public so I have been overjoyed.  My story is nothing compare to this 80-year-old female doctor.

Her name is Gao Yaojie.

Back in 1996, blood donation in some part of China was operated by illegal blood banks.  Some poor farmers visit these blood banks many times a year to earn some money.  Dr. Gao discovered that mixing plasma from different donors then give to different patients were spreading HIV to hundreds of thousands of people in Henan Province.  Three generations of one unlucky family all died from AIDS.

Soon, Dr. Gao was under investigation.  Her mails were censored, phone tapped, and she was warned not to spread the bad news.   Dr. Gao did not discouraged by any these.  She spent her own pension to print pamphlets and flyers, purchase medical supplies, and then distributed to the sick villagers.   In some hard-hit areas, Dr. Gao saw groups of orphans at various ages had to take care of themselves to survive.  She petitioned the local and central government to take care of these orphans.

People began to notice her efforts and even some high-ranking Chinese government officials visited Henan Province including the highest ranking female politician Wu Yi.  When Wu Yi spoke to Dr. Gao, Wu Yi had to force the local government officials to leave the room so they can talk freely.

In 2001, the Global Health Council awarded Dr. Gao the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights.  But the Henan Province officials, refused to give her the passport and let her leave China.  Instead, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan attended the ceremony and acknowledge his regrets that Dr. Gao could not attend the award ceremony.

It was a sad day for global AIDS prevention and a shameful day for the local officials in Henan Province.

Since then, Dr. Gao used her personal savings and award money published thirty thousand books in over ten different titles on AIDS preventions.  She donated these books to libraries, schools, and individuals around China.  “I am planning to print more books this year,” She said.  Early this year, a eight-year-old girl sent Dr. Gao her savings in an envolope.  It brought tears to Dr. Gao.  The girl left no name or address on the letter so Dr. Gao could not return the money.

Gao was planning to travel to the U.S. in March, 2007 to receive a leadership award from Vital Voices, an organization promoting female leadership supported by Senator Hillary Clinton.

Unfortunately, Dr. Gao was under house arrest again.  On her web space at, Dr. Gao said in her last desperate web entry dated Feb. 5, “There are secret police lurking in the hallways of my apartment.  They are watching me constantly and do not allow me to leave the building.  They don’t let me to travel to Beijing to apply for visa.  My phone service has been disconnected.  I maintain my peace inside and knowing they are being afraid.  They are the wrongdoers.  They should correct their actions.  I am only a fragile and sick old lady.  Why they want to treat an eighty-year-old woman like this?”

If Senator Hillary Clinton awares the situation and willing to work with her counterparts in Beijing, there is still a little chance that Dr. Gao can receive her award in person.  Otherwise, there will be a rude awakening at the ceremony.


Dr. Gao’s Blog in Chinese:

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