ATLANTA – In the more than three decades of the HIV/AIDS crisis, combating the stigma around the virus has been crucial to fighting the epidemic.
In China, the stigma surrounding HIV is similar to what it was in the United States more than 30 years ago, when the virus first emerged as a rapidly growing public health concern.
Georgia State University, with its strategic focus to improve international partnerships and work to solve global problems, has hosted two Chinese nursing scholars who learned more about how the American health care system deals with HIV/AIDS.
Ning Dong and Yanjuan Gan of the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center of Fudan University hope to use lessons learned in Atlanta to improve care in their home country.
Dong and Gan spent the past few months with scholars of the Byrdine F. Lewis School of Nursing and Health Professions to learn more about local HIV care.
“Nurses in the U.S. play a very different role. In China, it’s different,” Gan said.
The scholars visited Grady Memorial Hospital, one of the first public hospitals in the United States to deal with the emerging epidemic in the 1980s, the St. Joseph’s Mercy Care Clinic where many homeless persons affected by HIV receive care and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is on the front lines of finding a cure.
The way to fight the stigma and to combat the virus is more education, which is something Dong and Gan said they will work to improve.
“We must educate the public about HIV because in China most people think that if you shake hands with someone who is HIV positive, you will contract the disease, and it’s not true,” Dong said.
Families in China often shun their loved ones with HIV/AIDS, she added. Though HIV medications are free, the Chinese health system requires patients to show an identity card to obtain the medicines at no cost.
Rather than showing their ID, patients in China often pay for the medications out of their own pockets, she said.
Even health care professionals in the country do not have much education about the disease.
“In China, for medical students, the class about HIV is very late in their program, and is just a small part of the education,” Dong said. “For some students, they might not truly understand how HIV is transmitted.”
Nurses, who in any country are generally the patients’ first point of contact with the health care system, need to have more education about not only HIV itself, but the psychological issues of patients with HIV, she added.
Sylvia Lee, associate professor of nursing, said she hopes the work with Dong and Gan will lead to other partnerships between the university and health care scholars and institutions in China.
“We felt honored to be part of this event, since Dong and Gan will bring back new concepts to the SPHCC and we hope that they can advocate for a better health care system for the patients and better continue education for health care providers,” Lee said.
Lee added that two visiting scholars from Harbin Medical University will come to Georgia State in January for a year-long research project, focusing on Lee’s research on sleep.
Nov. 26, 2012