HIS face ravaged by AIDS, disc jockey J.J. Chan reached out to millions of Hong Kong households last year in a poignant TV advertisement appealing for greater understanding and community support for people suffering from the illness. JJ (as he was popular known) was not the only Hong Kong celebrity to have been afflicted by AIDS, but he was the first Chinese to publicly acknowledge he was suffering from it. He spoke of his fears at telling his family and the happiness he felt when his brothers and sisters rallied round him. "After all, it's only an illness," he said at the end of the message.
It was an act of courage by a dying man who wanted to do his bit for Hong Kong's AIDS awareness campaign. The JJ ad continued for several months after his death last year. But judging from the crowd of some 200 men and women at Richland Gardens in Kowloon Bay late last month, it looks like JJ's appeal -- and numerous similar messages spread through TV, radio, newspapers and display panels at MTR stations -- had fallen on deaf ears.
With clenched fists and faces twisted in anger, these normally law-abiding people defied the law and flaunted their prejudice against AIDS sufferers. They had formed a human barricade at a Richland Gardens site in Kowloon Bay to obstruct construction of a multi-purpose government clinic where people suffering from AIDS and venereal diseases will also be treated. The month-long protest came to a head when police moved in to disperse the protesters, who are dead set against the construction of the 11-storey health centre near their homes.
The centre will also house an out-patient clinic, an X-ray centre, a nursing home for the elderly and an STD clinic. Apparently, there are still popular misconceptions about AIDS and how it is spread. To many people, AIDS is spread by prostitutes, drug addicts, and gays. Having an AIDS clinic in their midst would encourage vice, pimps, triads, and drug traffickers.
"People still believe that you contract HIV by breathing the same air, by shaking hands, by looking at them, by walking in the same street and eating off the same plate," said Dr Vincent Lam, director of AIDS Concern.
The Government estimates that between 4,000 and 7,000 people are infected with HIV. Of these, 664 are HIV-positive and 188 have developed AIDS. According to the Hongkong Standard, there have been many reported cases of discrimination in recent years -- such as public outcry at the vocational school for children with behavioural problems in Sha Tin; the elderly infirmary in Tuen Mun; the mentally-ill activity centre near Laguna City in Lam Tin; the Down Syndrome resource centre in Wong Tai Sin; and the community rehabilitation network for chronically-ill patients in Sham Shui Po. None of these services were welcomed by residents nearby. -- by Charles Chan, Sinday Star