Governments across the globe vowed to step up the fight against HIV/AIDS to mark the 20th World AIDS Day on Monday. On Sunday, China launched a campaign along with the UN to raise awareness about the disease. The world's most populous country has at least 800,000 HIV-positive inhabitants. Because of a contaminated blood scandal, one of the worst hit provinces is Anhui which has many AIDS orphans
UNAIDS estimates that China might have the most number of HIV patients in the world by 2010
Anhui in western-central China is one of the poorest provinces in China. Peasants often live from what they harvest. In the early 1990s, trying to earn some extra money, many of them went to official stations to donate blood.
To increase the profits from these donations, needles and equipment were re-used and many blood donors were infected with HIV.
One of the reasons, AIDS was able to spread among the unknowing population of Anhui so fast was that the local government tried to cover up the story of contaminated blood -- especially because high-ranking officials were involved.
Many adults passed on the disease unknowingly to their partners. Their children were later often left without parents.
The German NGO AIDS Orphan Aid China tries to help those children by providing them with money. They also provide the means for renovating schools or buying textbooks.
"The children need money to stay in school," says Bettina von Reden from AIDS Orphan Aid China, which cooperates with Save the Children China that does a lot of infrastructural work in the region.
Orphans have to fight stigmatisation
Even if the orphans themselves are usually not infected with the disease, there is a very low social acceptance of AIDS orphans in Chinese society. Prejudice against them is high and it is almost impossible for them to find new families.
"The orphans of parents that have died of AIDS are very often stigmatised. People are afraid that they could spread the virus. Because of the fear of HIV, it is very hard to find couples who might adopt a child, even if it is not HIV-positive," says Bettina von Reden.
Even though the government has launched several campaigns to prevent the further spreading of HIV and AIDS in recent years, awareness about the disease among the population remains low.
Lack of knowledge
Bettina von Reden says that people still do not know enough. A recent survey made at various Beijing universities showed that students lacked basic knowledge of the disease. Many of them had no idea of how it is transmitted.
Only 20 percent said that they would use condoms and even 50 percent believed that they could get HIV through mosquito bites.
AIDS Orphan Aid tries to help raise awareness and to give emotional support to the children, who are often traumatised by the painful death of their parents and tend to retreat from the outside world.
Able to smile again
But they find their smiles again with support and care from AIDS Orphan Aid. "The children write to us, they thank us. Many children tell us that it is very important to them that somebody actually tells them that they are valuable people. It is important to them that someone takes an interest in them. They have more hope in their future," explains Bettina von Reden.
AIDS Orphan Aid has achieved a great deal in Anhui province with limited funds but observers say the Chinese authorities have to take more responsibility.
Experts say that there needs to be more sex education and better awareness campaigns about the disease if China is to fight the pandemic.
UNAIDS warns that by 2010 China could have the most HIV-positive people in the world.