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Woman of the Week: AIDS Granny, Gao Yaojie

AIDS Granny

The 85-year-old “AIDS Granny” from China, Gao Yaojie, is a woman who shows that no one, not even the Chinese government, can stop you from doing what you think is right. In the 1990s, Gao, a retired gynecologist, came out of retirement after realizing that many Chinese peasants had been infected with HIV through plasma transplants. The poor were the most prone to transmitting plasma because they needed the money that plasma companies offered. Many of these plasma donation centers were unlicensed. Since unhygienic practices were used, such as reusing needles and medical tubes, HIV quickly spread across entire villages. Due to a lack of treatment for HIV and AIDS, hundreds of thousands of peasants died.

Having witnessed these deaths and diagnosed the problem as AIDS, Gao vigorously tried to inform the public that AIDS was causing these deaths and that the plasma donations should stop. Due to corruption, local and state officials tried to cover up the fact that the plasma trade and AIDs were causing these deaths. The officials wanted the money that the plasma companies brought in, so they would openly advertise that giving away plasma was a harmless way of making money.

Gao and other doctors who realized the destruction caused by AIDS went around educating rural people about the danger of donating plasma. Gao also started a charity and donated some of her own money to provide food and clothing for AIDS victims. Eventually, the Chinese government could not keep the epidemic hushed due to the high number of deaths. Because of the work of Gao and other doctors, Chinese officials finally agreed to ban the plasma-for-cash programs and unlicensed blood donation centers.

Since then, Gao has gained popularity among the international media and has been dubbed the “AIDS Granny.” She was also received an award in 2007 from Vital Voices Group Partnership, a group lead by then-Senator Hillary Clinton. Nevertheless, she remains a target of the Chinese government. After years of harassment and blackmailing by Chinese officials, she left China to protect her family from further disturbance. Now she lives in East Harlem, NY where she tirelessly works on writing books to record what she knows about the AIDS epidemic in China so that future generations can learn about the atrocities that the Chinese government continues to try to hush up. She is currently working on her 27th book.