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In the 1990s, HIV was spreading rapidly through the poor rural population of the eastern province of Henan in China. Farmers were selling blood at unsanitary collection centres. "Give your blood if you want a good life," was a slogan coined by officials.
During the transfusions, the blood drawn from donors was being put into a community vat.
The blood plasma was broken down into elements of albumin, globulin, and platelets and used by companies to produce expensive medicines, which was very profitable for both the government and the medical industry.
The remaining and mixed blood was re-injected into the donors, enabling a single HIV carrier to infect a large group very quickly.
Dr Gao was the first person in China to bring this extremely dangerous practice to public attention.
She visited villages in Henan to educate people on how to stop the spread of HIV/Aids and became well known in China and worldwide for her Aids prevention work.
She used her fame to denounce the three major problems contributing to the AIDS crisis in China. The first is the spread of HIV through infected blood in blood banks. The second problem, according to Gao, are serious misconceptions Chinese people have about AIDS patients, making public prevention efforts difficult. Official government opinion is that HIV is spread mainly though sexual contact and drug abuse, rather than blood transfusions. The last problem is corruption and Dr Gao accuses officials in China of still profiting from trading in illegal blood.
She spent all her prizes and remuneration in printing books and leaflets for AIDS prevention.
For years, the Chinese government denied the existence of HIV and Aids in China.
For her trouble, she has been repeatedly placed under house arrest. China has relented, as the extent of its hidden AIDS problem became more evident.
Today, brave Dr Gao is in her 80s and lives in the United States. Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, is thought to be particularly interested in protecting the heroic Mrs Gao. The two women have met a number of times and Mrs Clinton personally made sure that Dr Gao was able to receive an award for her work in the US in 2007.
In a recent speech in Washington Gao explained that she may never be able to return to China safely. She was referring to the arrest of Tan Zuoren, a Sichuan-based activist. Tan was put on trial earlier this year for revealing the true number of dead children after an earthquake in 2008.
"I am aware I may be buried on foreign soil. But I must tell the truth about China's Aids epidemic, I have no choice." she said.
Dr. Gao Yaojie once called herself a failure in preventing the spread of AIDS in China. But the real failure, it seems, is the existing system under the communist regime.
By John English
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