Gao Yaojie

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Gao Yaojie
Dr Gao Yaojie March 2007.jpg
Born (1927-12-19) December 19, 1927 (age 86)
Cao County, Shandong, China
Nationality Chinese
Occupation Gynaecologist
Known for AIDS Activist

Gao Yaojie (Chinese: 耀; pinyin: Gāo Yàojié; born 1927) is a Chinese gynecologist, academic, and AIDS activist in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China. Gao has been honored for her work by the United Nations and Western organizations, and had spent time under house arrest. Her split with the Chinese authority on the transmission and the seriousness of the AIDS epidemic in China hinders her further activities and resulted in her leaving for the United States in 2009. She is now living alone in uptown Manhattan, New York City.

Biography[edit]

Gao was born in Cao County, Shandong Province in 1927. A retired professor at the Henan College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Gao is a medical doctor who specialized in ovarian gynecology,[1] and in particular gynecological tumors. She graduated from the School of Medicine at Henan University in 1954. However, because of her intellectual background Dr. Gao was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, leaving her in ill health. She worked as a gynecologist in the Henan Chinese Medicine Hospital in 1974, was promoted to professor in 1986, and retired in 1990. Dr. Gao was a member of the Henan People’s Congress.[2]

Henan was the site of the Bloodhead scandal which resulted in rapid spread of the HIV virus during the 1990s among the impoverished rural population who sold blood at unsanitary Henan provincial and private collection centers where blood was collected from paid blood donors into a central tank, the plasma separated out, and the remainder of the blood pumped back from the central tank into the donors of the same blood type.[3] Gao is well known in China and worldwide for her AIDS prevention work in during the HIV epidemic in Henan, and for advocating much greater attention to people suffering from AIDS and children orphaned by AIDS.[4]

Gao is well known for her writings and visits to Henan villages to educate people on HIV/AIDS prevention and for her work on behalf of the many children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic in Henan Province, home to 100 million people. In 1996 Gao Yaojie started doing AIDS prevention work and treating people afflicted with AIDS in Henan's villages at her own expense. She visited over 100 Henan villages and treated over 1000 people. She self-published her book "Prevention of AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases" and distributed 300,000 copies of the book. Her newsletter "Knowledge for HIV Prevention" went to 15 issues and a total printing of 530,000 copies. She used the $20,000 Jonathan Mann Award and $10,000 in contribution to reprint her book. Since 2000, most of her efforts has been focused on helping "AIDS orphans" ("AIDS orphans" in Chinese refer to healthy children whose parents died of HIV.) in Henan's villages.[5]

Life as a Gynecologist and Experience during the Cultural Revolution[edit]

The Road of Uncovering the Epidemic after Retirement [2][edit]

First Contact With an AIDS Patient[edit]

It was by accident that Gao embarked on the road of anti-AIDS education. On April 7, 1996, a Henan hospital received a woman patient but found it difficult to diagnose her disease. Gao was invited to attend the consultation. At last, the patient, surnamed Ba, was diagnosed with HIV due to a blood transfusion several years earlier. The patient cried and appealed to Gao, saying, "Doctor Gao, how is it that I cannot be cured, for I just took a blood transfusion?" "I don't want to die!" Ba said. "My husband and my child can't live without me." Ten days later, the patient died, at the age of 42. Fortunately, neither her husband nor her child was infected by HIV.

It was Gao's first time to see an AIDS patient. Ba's painful expression and heartbreaking cry deeply hurt Gao's heart. As a doctor, she could do nothing but watch the disease take the life of her patient. For several consecutive days, Gao had no appetite and slept poorly. And the worse thing: that patient's blood transfusion came from an infected blood bank, which meant she was the tip of an iceberg that had just emerged from the water and even more lives would be lost if no measures were taken to stem the spread of HIV. In the meantime, Gao also noticed that in the two years from the patient's infection to her death, none of her family was infected, proving the possibility of successful control of the spread of the disease. But the premise is that people should be aware of the urgency in AIDS prevention and grasp prevention knowledge as much as possible.

After Ba died, her husband slept before her tomb for more than 10 days, repenting for his requirement for a blood transfusion in surgery for his wife. Gao felt very sorry about that. At the time, most AIDS prevention education was devoted to stressing such transmission sources as unprotected sex and drug use, overlooking the danger of blood transfusion. This fact aroused a deep concern for life and a strong sense of social liability in Gao's heart. Before long, she decided to shift her focus from clinical treatment to AIDS prevention education. "As a doctor, I can only treat at most dozens of patients a day," she thought. "But as an activist of AIDS prevention, every day I can educate at least hundreds of people so as to save even more lives." Gao hopes to do her utmost to help society understand, be concerned with, and finally keep away from AIDS.

Committed to AIDS Prevention[edit]

According to Gao's husband, died on April 10, 2006, the couple used to lead an easy life. Right after their retirement, the couple, both doctors, enjoyed a monthly salary of more than 2,000 yuan each, an advantageous income by the standards of their city, Zhengzhou, Henan Province.

But starting from 2000, Guo has prohibited his wife from managing their money, because "she donated almost all our savings to AIDS patients and their families." The couple, however, lived in frugality, their dish expenditure being only 200 yuan a month. "My clothes, medicines, and eggs are all presented by others," said Gao, projecting a mental contentment.

On one hand, Gao keeps a simple diet for herself. But on the other hand, she is so generous that she has spent all her prizes and remuneration in printing materials for AIDS prevention. In order to spread the pamphlets, the aged woman has traveled all streets and lanes on bicycle and visited different places. A total of 770,000 copies of four-page pamphlets edited by Gao herself have been printed out, and 750,000 of them have been distributed, more than the printing and distribution figures of any governmental institution.

A sharp contrast with other women her age, Gao wears no ornament save for a wristwatch—not even a ring. Although her salary is at that time managed by her husband, who appropriates only 700 yuan to her every month, she still retains control of her remuneration and income from lectures. Last year, Gao gave a lecture at the Medical Center of Fudan University and earned 6,000 yuan. Later, she earned 800 yuan from a lecture on family planning in Gongyi, Henan Province. All the money was donated by Gao in a sum ranging from 50 yuan to 500 yuan to AIDS patients and orphans whose parents had died of AIDS.

Gao had also sponsored and edited a tabloid, Knowledge of AIDS Prevention, which has published 530,000 copies in 15 issues. Except for the first issue, all the following issues were funded by Gao herself, costing her 3,000 yuan to 5,000 yuan each. She also bought medicine on her own expenses for patients and sends money to them. In the autumn of 2001, Gao carried out a survey on the knowledge of AIDS prevention. Of the more than 10,000 people surveyed, less than 15 percent had a correct understanding of HIV transmission and AIDS prevention, and most of them were utterly ignorant of HIV transmission through blood.

In order to expand AIDS prevention education, Gao edited the book The Prevention of AIDS / Venereal Disease, which has been published four times for more than 300,000 copies. She spent all her $20,000 in award money from Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights and $10,000 in donations from the Ford Foundation in printing 150,000 copies of the book. Every day, 10 to 100 copies of the book are given free to medical staff, patients, and patients' families in rural areas. After the book's reprinting in August 2001, the Women's Federation of Henan Province, the provincial epidemic prevention station, and the provincial library were presented with some 20,000 copies each and were commissioned to transfer the books to grass-root units and individuals in rural areas. Soon, Gao received piles of letters from different places asking for the book; most of the letters came from Henan Province. Some provinces, including Hainan, Hubei, Guangdong, and Yunnan, and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, have used this book as the teaching material for their AIDS education classes. Some people persuaded Gao not to continue such a business at a loss. Gao replied, "Money is not brought in when one is born and will not be taken along as one dies."

"One should do something for the world," she said. "I feel happy if I can do something significant."

At 5 a.m. on March 29, 2001, Gao boarded a train from Zhengzhou to Zhumadian, Henan Province. Fiver hours later, she arrived in Zhumadian and immediately got on a coach to Xincai. Because of a traffic jam, that journey took more than nine hours. During that long period, Gao's two young companions occasionally stretched their heads out of the window for fresh air, but Gao was kept cramped in the bus with no water to drink. When they finally arrived at their destination, Gao's feet swelled and her legs were so painful that she could not walk and could hardly stand. That experience has passed, but even today, Gao still has a lingering fear.

"I was really afraid that I could never stand up again," she said. "There are still so many things to do for AIDS prevention, and I can't fall down."

To Live Selflessly[edit]

According to Gao, her home has become a complaint and consulting center for AIDS patients. Every day, she receives endless letters and phone calls, with people inquiring about the disease or telling her their grievances of being discriminated against. On average, she answers dozens of phone calls and replies to nearly 10 letters a day. Some people do not understand, saying that she has asked for it.

"In my view," Gao said, "one should not live simply for himself or herself but should think of others. An owl is born to eat mice, and a dragonfly is born to eat mosquitoes. Man should be also born to do something. I think everyone should pay for society, instead of gaining benefits by doing harm to the public or others."

Next, Gao will continue her AIDS prevention education and will write more books to let people know all about AIDS and its prevention, and to show people that AIDS is not that horrible. She will also commit time and efforts to solving the existence, education, and psychological issues of AIDS orphans. "I am clear that my efforts will not be paid off," Gao said. "What I will harvest is nothing more than people's support and respect. My power as a single person is limited. It is impossible to save all the AIDS patients even if I sell my humble apartment. But I hope that my efforts will stimulate society at large to watch and be concerned with AIDS."

Achievements [6][edit]

Gao’s hard work and persistence, however, have forced the government to admit that there is a problem with AIDS. In 2003, the Chinese government admitted officially that AIDS existed in China and promised funds to prevent and control the disease. In 2004 the United Nations Theme Group on HIV/AIDS in China released a report estimating that somewhere between 850,000 and 1.5 million adults in China were infected with HIV as of 2001. In 2007, Chinese health officials estimated that only 750,000 adults were infected, but other sources estimated that the true number was closer to 1.5 million. By October that year, China had officially recorded 183,733 HIV cases, including 12,464 deaths. Up until now, many people at risk remain untested—some are lurking in the shadows because of the stigma—and some experts fear the actual number could be much higher.

There is significant progress, thanks to efforts by Chinese activists. Gao slowly attracted more people to her cause, developing a system to manage the virus effectively. She continued to visit new villages, documenting their location and the situation of the virus there. Once these areas were recorded, other AIDS activists were able to follow behind her, providing assistance to the villagers as Gao traveled on, looking for more areas where the virus lurked.

Awards, Harassment and Publication of Autobiography[edit]

Dr. Gao Yao-Jie (Hie) (or Gao Yaojie) 80-year-old, gynecologist from Henan province(2007)

In 2001 she was awarded the Jonathan Mann Award for Health and Human Rights,[7] In 2002, she was named Time Magazine's Asian Heroine. In 2003 she was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service in Manila, Philippines.[1][8] In both instances she was denied permission to travel outside China to accept the awards.[9] In 2003 she was designated one of the “Ten People Who Touched China in 2003” by China Central Television.

Gao was awarded the "Global Leadership Award, Women Changing Our World" by the Vital Voices Global Partnership along with three other women from China and three women from India, Guatemala, and Sudan at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on March 14, 2007. Gao was reported in February, 2007 to have been held in house arrest and unable to travel.[4] She had been pressured by local official to sign a statement that she is "unable to travel due to poor health." [9] A report on a visit to her apartment while under she was still under house arrest by Henan Province Vice Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, Henan Vice Governor Wang Jumei, and Henan Province Communist Party Organization Department head Ye Dongsong presented her flowers and best wishes from the Henan Party and Government for the Chinese New Year [10] appeared in the Henan Daily and other Chinese media. On February 16, 2007, bowing to international pressure, the government gave her permission to travel to the United States to receive the award.[11]

The house arrest of Gao was part of a continuing pattern of harassment, especially in Henan Province, of grassroots AIDS activists in China. In 2006 Wan Yanhai, another prominent activist, was detained and prevented from holding an AIDS conference in Beijing. Gao's blog, which she still maintains, has become what Gao calls a "battleground" between her supporters and detractors. Gao in her blog entry of February 11 denounces a hacking saboteur of her blog and notes that one visitor left a message that people were being paid 50 RMB each to leave negative comments. Gao writes that the attacks began after she began describing many cases of people who got HIV through blood transfusions in order to show a serious problem of HIV transmission by blood transfusion continues in Henan Province.[12]

September 20 of 2007, New York Academy of Sciences gave her "The Heinz R. Pagels Human Rights of Scientists Award."[13] In 2007, the International Astronomical Union named asteroid No. 38980 after Dr. Gao.

In July 2008, Gao's autobiography "The Soul of Gao Yaojie" (written in Chinese) was published by Ming Pao Publications Limited (Hong Kong), and the English version, "The Soul of Gao Yaojie: A Memoir", was published in November, 2011.[14]

Quotation[edit]

“I have never wanted to be a hero, but who sent the first AIDS patients to me? And since then, I have walked a road that has no return. Maybe this is fate. Who asked me to be a doctor? Who makes me feel suffering when I witness it? Who lets me feel rage when I see darkness and evil?”

“In my view,one should not live simply for himself or herself but should think of others. An owl is born to eat mice, and a dragonfly is born to eat mosquitoes. Man should be also born to do something. I think everyone should pay for society, instead of gaining benefits by doing harm to the public or others."

Acclaim[edit]

Harri Holkeri, president of the 55th UN General Assembly, once complimented Gao Yaojie before the worldwide media. "Knowledge is the best vaccine for AIDS," he said. "In China's Henan, there is a volunteer dedicated to AIDS prevention education. Her stories are touching, and her spirit is admirable."

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References[edit]

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