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In China, HIV-Positive And Hired To Intimidate With Infection

A Chinese housing developer recently hired AIDS patients to threaten people with infection so they would leave their homes. It seems shocking, but discrimination in China based on HIV status is actually legal, leaving many patients little employment choic

On the fringes, In Beijing
On the fringes, In Beijing
Yao Jiayi

BEIJING — If it wasn't shocking enough to learn that a local housing developer in Henan province recently hired HIV-positive people to threaten residents with infection so they would move out of their houses, consider that this wasn't an isolated case.

In China, it's relatively common for people living with AIDS to be hired for jobs such as helping to get houses demolished — in this case, the six people were known as the "AIDS demolition team" — or collecting debts, says Cheng Shuaishuai, founder of an anti-discrimination organization providing free housing to patients suffering from AIDS.

The main suspect in the Henan case, a man named Liu, told the Xinhua News Agency that he learned about the job opportunity online, and Cheng says many employers are apparently willing to use this kind of coercion on the uneducated people in Henan's rural areas.

Though Cheng stresses that HIV carriers should be punished just like other citizens if they violate the law, he says the majority of people living with AIDS in China work just like other ordinary people.

Media coverage suggests that people with HIV opt for these shady assignments intimidating people because of physical limitations that preclude them from doing heavy labor. But as Cheng points out, there are latency and onset periods for HIV-positive people. In theory, medication can prolong the latent period of the virus — the stage where there are often no symptoms — so that those infected have no obvious signs of illness. But for those with a long history of HIV infection and who started medication only after experiencing full-blown AIDS symptoms, physical fitness is already diminished.

There are more than 60,000 identified HIV cases in Henan province. The area has the highest prevalence of HIV in China because of unsafe blood donations and blood selling. Among these cases, 30,000 are past latency and in the full-blown AIDS stage. Though the Henan authority gives a small living subsidy to each person carrying the HIV virus and to people suffering from AIDS, medical expenses aren't fully covered once they are hospitalized.

That some HIV-positive people support themselves by taking jobs that require intimidation reflects the grim reality of employment discrimination against this vulnerable group. Though China's Employment Promotion Act generally specifies that employers cannot refuse hiring on the basis of whether a person carries an infectious disease, it allows companies to decline HIV-positive candidates by saying that they are "medically unfit."

In 2010, a Normal University graduate from Anhui province passed the teacher recruitment examination but the local education authority refused to give him a job because he was HIV-positive. He filed the first anti-AIDS discrimination lawsuit in China but lost both his initial case and his appeal.

His lawyer, Li Fangping, says that news coverage of the "AIDS demolition team" and similar cases will definitely affect public perception of HIV-positive people, stigmatizing them even more. It's even likely that the judges will penalize those involved more harshly than they otherwise would in order to calm public outrage.

Li says there should be scrutiny not just of the housing developer and the HIV-positive people in his employ but also of the role of public authorities. For example, was the "AIDS demolition team" somehow protected from the government?

It's only just that any housing developers and officials involved are duly punished, just as their hired hands no doubt will be.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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