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Exam Room For HIV-positive Students Sparks Social Media Storm in China

For the first time ever in China, HIV-positive students will take the national college exams in a separate examination room at a special school in Linfen, Shanxi. News of the segregated exam site has triggered intense debate among Weibo netizens over the past few days.

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For the first time ever in China, HIV-positive students will take the national college exams in a separate examination room at a special school in Linfen, Shanxi. News of the segregated exam site has triggered intense debate among Weibo netizens over the past few days.

Linfen Red-Ribbon School, the only special school for HIV-infected children in China, sparked a social media storm in early June when Shanxi Daily reported that its students would take their national exams in a special exam room, instead of taking it at the standard local exam site together with other students.

The Red Ribbon School was established in December of 2011, and has since been included in the national education system. The Institute offers free food, dorms, medical services, and psychological treatment for its 33 students, who come from all over China.

China’s national college exam, better known as the gaokao (高考), is the National Higher Entrance Examination. For most students, it is the most important exam of their life.

The Red Ribbon School received official authorization to let 16 of its students take the national exam within the school premises. The students have lived and studied at the Institute since 2004. All prerequisites for the official exam, including CCTV and surveillance equipment, have now been installed in two designated gaokao rooms. There are separate rooms for candidates in liberal arts and science.

The idea for the special exam site was originally suggested by Guo Xiaoping, the school’s headmaster. People with HIV often still face severe stigma and discrimination in China. “It is unrealistic to prevent all discrimination in modern-day society,” Guo said in an interview with the Shanxi Daily: “Some people might object to taking tests together with our students. It was my proposal to set up a separate place for them, and it was then approved by the education and exam council. The establishment of this examination site is of major significance.”

But not all netizens agreed on the helpfulness of separate exam rooms, and it triggered wider debates on the existence of the school itself. One Chinese web user objected: “’Red-Ribbon school’? Giving the school this name is like screaming from the rooftops ‘these kids are sick!’ This institution is unprecedentedly wicked rather than meaningful.”

Another person ridiculed the exam arrangements, pointing out that it reinforced discrimination instead of eliminating it.

There are also many people who approve of the school; but also because they are worried about their own ‘safety.’ On the Weibo page of Chinanews, the comment that received the most ‘likes’ explained a concerned parent’s perspective: “Would you feel safe knowing your kid is playing with those HIV-positive children? They are so little and don’t know how to protect themselves. Something might happen that leads to contact with blood.”

“I bet that half of the comments here are just out of political correctness. To be honest, I don’t want to live with HIV-students in the same college because I’m afraid that I might have some dangerous physical contact with them without even knowing it.”

There are also Weibo commenters who support headmaster Guo Xiaoping. “He’s a great man who quit his job as the president of the Linfen People’s Hospital to devote himself to building this school to help HIV-infected kids receive a proper education. It is really unfair to talk badly about such a kind old man and these poor children.”

In 2014, over half a million (501,000) of China’s population were reportedly living with HIV. Although the number of HIV cases is relatively low in China, this has also intensified existing stigmas and fear (see this 2009 study on stigma and discrimination among people with HIV in low HIV-prevalence contexts).

HIV-infected children in China are often forced to drop out of school because of poverty, discrimination, and poor health. In 2014, the 8-year-old HIV-infected Kunkun made headlines when he was banished from his village for the ‘safety’ of his neighbors. He later found a new home at the Red Ribbon school.

Sixth Tone recently reported that many workers with Chinese Hepatitis B seek body doubles to pass health checks in the workplace to avoid discrimination. Similar practices also occur with HIV carriers. Taboos surrounding the disease are so strong that some Chinese doctors still fear treating HIV/Aids patients, despite anti-discrimination rules.

Looking at the many comments on Chinese social media about the facts and falsehoods about HIV/Aids, it is clear that there is still a long road ahead for HIV awareness in China – especially because sexual education is still a controversial topic.

Through an open letter online, one of the students of the Red Ribbon School also gave their view and final say on the matter. They wrote: “I just want to go to college, achieve my dreams and pay back those who love me. The nearer the gaokao is, the heavier my heart feels. So many questions have been troubling me: whether I will be accepted to a university, if the teachers will accept me as a normal student, and whether my classmates will study and live with me.”

The students of the Red Ribbon Schools will be taking their exams on June 7 and 8. One 19-year-old Weibo netizen wishes the students the best: “As a Linfen resident, this moves me to tears, and I am proud of Linfen. All these keyboard warriors need to shut up and stop discriminating. You can’t deprive these students of their rights. I wish them all the good luck for their exams!”

– By Yue Xin
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Additional editing by Manya Koetse
©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Yue Xin is a bilingual freelance journalist currently based in the Netherlands with a focus on gender issues and literature in China. As a long-time frequent Weibo user, she is specialized in the buzzwords and hot topics on Chinese social media.

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China Health & Science

Panic over Wuhan Coronavirus Leads to Online Backlash against Consumption of Wild Animals in China

Amid the coronavirus outbreak panic, the majority of Chinese netizens say it’s time for wild game to be game over.

Jessica Colwell

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It is by far the number one topic dominating Chinese online media: the coronavirus. The source of the virus is suspected to be an illegal wild animal market in Wuhan. Calls for stricter outlawing of the trafficking and consumption of wild game are dominating Weibo this week.

Fears are mounting over a new strain of coronavirus that first appeared at a wet market in Wuhan in late December and has spread to four countries, killed 17, and infected almost 600 in China, with new cases being reported at time of writing.

The number of infected is expected to balloon as the annual Chinese New Year holiday begins on Friday and hundreds of millions of Chinese travelers move about the country.

The Wuhan coronavirus was first transmitted to humans in a wet market in Wuhan where many kinds of wild animals are sold illegally. While the source has yet to be conclusively identified, coronavirus is typically transmitted to humans via animals such as civet cats and bats. This has led to an outcry online and widespread condemnation of the consumption of wild game in China.

Known as the Wuhan Coronavirus internationally, domestically the virus is simply called “new pneumonia” (新型肺炎) in most Chinese media coverage. It is a type of respiratory illness causing mild to moderate cold-like symptoms that can potentially lead to complications from pneumonia.

So far, the virus seems to be milder than the previous two big global coronavirus outbreaks (SARS and MERS), but health officials caution that not enough is known as of yet, and also that the risk of mutation could mean far greater danger than first anticipated.

As of 10 am today, authorities have sealed off travel to and from Wuhan in an effort to prevent further spread of the disease. News of other cities in Hubei province also halting train operations came in later today, with Ezhou Station and Huangguang station both suspending services as of Thursday.

The Chinese government’s response to the Wuhan virus has been markedly different from the coverup of the SARS outbreak in 2003, and authorities have been swift to track the disease and to sequence its genome.

On January 20, Beijing confirmed that the virus can be spread between humans, and on January 22 it announced a full accounting of all cases in China and abroad in a press conference given by the State Council Information Office.

 

Backlash against the Consumption of Wild Game 

 

As global and domestic concern mounts about the new virus, it has become the almost exclusive focus of Chinese social media this week, dominating the vast majority of trending topics on Weibo and Wechat.

A snapshot of the top trending topics on Weibo taken on January 23. The only topic not about the virus is about Taiwanese singer Chen Linong 陈立农 playing whack-a-mole.

The Wuhan virus is believed to have originated at the Wuhan Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market (武汉华南海鲜批发市场) and was most likely first transferred to humans from one of the many wild animals being illegal bought and sold there.

The Wuhan wet market where the Wuhan coronavirus is thought to have first been transferred to humans.

The market has since been shut down, but online criticism of such markets has been fierce on social media.

A price list for wild animals sold at the Wuhan wet market, including hedgehog, fox, and camel.

The hashtag “Support the banning of wild game markets” (#支持禁绝野味市场#) was topping the list of trending topics for much of Thursday and was viewed 270 million times.

Another hashtag, “The source of the new coronavirus is wild animals” (#新型冠状病毒来源是野生动物#), topped the list on Wednesday and has been viewed 990 million times.

Online commenters are lambasting the practice of eating illegal wild game such as civet cats, the cause of the 2003 SARS virus, and bats, the suspected cause of the Wuhan coronavirus (snakes have also been suggested as a possible source of the coronavirus outbreak).

“The only outcome of eating wild game is disease! SARS came from civet cats and bats. Ebola came from chimpanzees, monkeys, wild boar, and bats. MERS came from camels. The Avian Flu came from wild birds and poultry. AIDS came from chimps. Is it really that delicious? Is this really the way you want to eat?” one Weibo user questioned.

Comments viciously attacking those who eat wild animals can be seen across a variety of posts and topics.

“Let me say something malicious: Eating wild game is fine, just please remember to kill yourself immediately after,” said one much-upvoted commenter on a post about virus facts released by the State Council.

Images circulating on Weibo showing dishes featuring bats, the suspected source of the Wuhan coronavirus.

Various photos and a video of people eating bats have been going around WeChat and Weibo these days. The word for ‘bat’ in Chinese (蝙蝠) is ‘bianfu.‘ The ‘fu’ sound being the same as ‘fu’ (福) for ‘happiness,’ it is believed that superstition is one of the reasons for people to consume bat.

“If humans don’t live in harmony with nature, the inevitable consequence is that nature bites back. We need to regulate our hungry mouths!” complained one Weibo user.

Another trending view of the issue is that eating wild game flies in the face of thousands of years of human domestication of animals. Said one Weibo comment: “Our ancestors spent thousands of years domesticating the tastiest, most nutritious, safest poultry and livestock for us, but people are still stupid enough to go and provoke wild animals! I’m so furious I can barely speak. Only human beings can destroy human beings, and it’s the worst and most stupid of us who are doing it.”

“We spent thousands of years domesticating super nutritious animals and you don’t even want to eat them! You just want wild game!”

A video circulating on Weibo made by the cast of My Own Swordsman (武林外传) educates viewers on the risks of eating wild animals, breaking the third wall to tell their audience that there’s really no nutritional difference between domestic and wild animals, and that wild animals may carry disease because they haven’t been subject to the same kinds of hygiene requirements.

One Red Cross volunteer commented on the video: “I recommend that we immediately crackdown on all wild game markets, we cannot allow the cravings of a small group of people to affect our country as a whole. This kind of behavior disrupts the order of the food chain, and the rest of us are paying for the ridiculous and selfish behavior of these people.”

Jay Chou, an ambassador for Wild Aid, took the opportunity to reiterate his opposition to eating wild animals, and to repost his video discouraging the consumption of pangolin, highlighting the risk of disease transmission.

Perhaps the Wuhan Coronavirus will lead to a broader sea change among the Chinese population and their views towards – and tolerance of – the trafficking and consumption of wild animals.

By Jessica Colwell
Follow @whatsonweibo

With contributions from Miranda Barnes

Read more articles by Jessica Colwell here

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Health & Science

‘Cecolin’ Is Here: First Made-in-China HPV Vaccine Priced at US$47

China is the third country in the world to produce its own HPV vaccine, and it is cheaper than its foreign counterparts.

Manya Koetse

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While Chinese media praise Cecolin for being China’s first domestically produced HPV vaccine, Chinese social media users are more concerned with its price, quality, and availability.

In the first week of 2020, the first China-made HPV vaccine was approved by Chinese drug regulators. The domestically produced HPV vaccine became a major topic of discussion on Chinese social media. On Weibo alone, the topic received more than 580 million views since early January.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine prevents infection with the specific viral infection that causes cervical cancer. The earliest HPV vaccine, ‘Gardasil’ by American multinational pharmaceutical company Merck & Co., first became available in 2006. Along with Pfizer’s ‘Prevnar 13’ – the vaccine deployed for the prevention of pneumococcal pneumonia – Gardasil is among the world’s best-selling vaccines.

With the introduction of the first Chinese HPV vaccine, the virtual monopoly position of Merck’s vaccine might now change as the Chinese vaccination is entering the market.

The Chinese vaccine is named ‘Cecolin’ (馨可宁), and was co-developed by drug maker Innovax (万泰沧海生物技术) and Xiamen University. It is intended for girls and women aged 9-14 (two shots needed) and 15-45 (three shots needed). According to CGTN, some 8 million shots will be produced in China in 2020.

Gardasil and Cecolin are not entirely the same, however. Gardasil is a so-called quadrivalent vaccine, which targets four different antigens (HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18), while Cecolin is a bivalent vaccine only protecting against HPV 16 and 18 types, the two most common viruses leading to cervical cancer. Another type of HPV vaccine is the nonavalent kind, the Gardasil 9 vaccine, preventing diseases caused by HPV types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58.

Nearly all sexually active people will be exposed to HPV at some point in their life, and if girls and women are given the vaccine before any natural infection with HPV, the vaccines have been shown to protect against pre-cancer of the cervix. Males can also get the quadrivalent and nonavalent HPV vaccines to protect against genital warts, anal precancers, or the spread of HPV to sexual partners.

While Chinese media emphasize the fact that China is now the third country in the world, after US and UK, to succeed in producing its own HPV vaccine, one of the topics receiving the most attention on Chinese social media is the price of the Cecolin vaccine.

Cecolin is currently priced at 329 yuan (US$47) per shot, which is considerably cheaper than the approximate $250 per dose of the Gardasil vaccine in the United States.

The nonavalent vaccine costs about 1300 yuan or more per shot in China ($186+), with the quadrivalent Gardasil being priced at approximately 800 yuan per shot ($115), and the imported bivalent vaccine costing 600 yuan per dose ($86).

Weibo user shares receipt of 9-valent vaccine, 1338 yuan per dose.

Many Weibo commenters praise the arrival of the Chinese vaccine and its relatively low price. A complete vaccination programme would now only be either 660 or 1000 yuan ($94/$143, depending on needing two or three shots) instead of $260 or more.

“Whoa that’s cheap!” some commenters write, with others saying: “This makes it possible for the poorer girls to get their shots.”

But there is also a lot of discussion on the quality of the vaccine, and whether the bivalent vaccine is effective enough (for clarity -the two HPV types the vaccine protects against causes 84.5% of all cervical cancers in China). Some Weibo users say they would still like to get the more expensive nonavalent vaccine instead – even if they will need to spend around 4000 yuan ($570) on their completed shots.

Other commenters are most concerned with the general availability of HPV vaccines in China, as there is still a shortage of vaccinations.

The imported HPV vaccine was issued 1,46 million times in 2017, going up to 7 million shots in 2018 and 8,7 million in 2019. On Weibo, some commenters say they have previously gone to Hong Kong to get their shot.

One user from Nanjing writes: “I made an appointment for my site and needed to wait for four months, I finally got it. I don’t want to wait around for the domestic shot to become available here.”

A Weibo user from Liaoning is appreciative that those who want to have the vaccine now have more options: “If you can financially afford it, you can choose the nonavalent vaccines, if you can’t afford it, you can get the quadrivalent or bivalent ones.”

Starting from May of 2020, Cecolin will be available at community hospitals across various regions in China.

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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