Tibet, one of the latest places in the world to be exposed to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), is now becoming a place of high prevalence rate, according to some studies that have been kept low key. A number of studies and expert comments suggest that the rate is particularly high in Ganze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, where the first case was diagnosed in 2002.
In his AIDS education book, Dr. Mantrul Gedrak wrote that there were as many as 30,100 people in the prefecture living with HIV in 2009, which has since been republished in various Tibetan language websites. This suggest that nearly 3.4 percent of total population in the prefecture were infected with HIV within seven years of its start, making it possibly one of the worst hit areas in modern People’s Republic of China. China’s official report of national prevalence rate is less than 0.1 percent.
VOA has learnt that Dr. Gedrak’s number was based on an estimate that came up with an unofficial research conducted by a small group of Tibetan AIDS educators in a few counties in Ganze Prefecture. However, a 2007 classified report by then U.S. Consul General in Chengdu, which was later published by WikiLeaks, shows that the rate of prevalence could even be higher.
In his report, James A. Boughner wrote that a scholar from Sichuan Provincial Ethnic Research Institute named Shang Yunchuan admitted in a meeting in Chengdu in December 2006 that the male HIV infected rate in the prefecture was in “double digits” and female, in “single digit.” She reported that the annual infection rate from 2005 to 2006 had increased by over 170 percent. While she gave the numbers of AIDS/HIV infected population in some Tibetan areas during that meeting, she said the case of the Ganze Prefecture was classified, according to Boughner’s report.
It was not first time a double digit population infection occurred in specific areas in People’s Republic of China. In the 1990s, about 80 percent population in an area in Henan Province had contacted HIV, mainly through unsafe blood transfusion. That information was, too, officially classified.
Due to the sensitivity of AIDS information in China, getting information about the particular case in the Tibetan area is difficult. A few days after taking our questions via email, WHO Representative in China declined interview request from VOA Tibetan Service, saying that they didn’t have experts available. A couple of other foreign organizations working in China on AIDS/HIV have never responded our requests.
In the leaked report, Mr. Boughner expressed the seriousness of the situation in the Tibetan area in his January 2007 report.
“HIV/AIDS situation in Tibetan areas of Sichuan Province has grown more serious in the last year,” he wrote. “…A representative of a foreign non-governmental organization working in Tibetan areas of Sichuan said HIV/AIDS is a ‘disaster waiting to happen’.”
A study published in Sichuan University in 2013 indicates how fast the epidemic spreading in the area. In 2011, two hundred cases of HIV infection was found in Draggo (Ch: Luhuo) County in Ganze Prefecture. Within a year, that number rose by 60 percent. This is roughly 1.07 percent of the total county population (based on China’s 2010 census report).
An AIDS educator in the Tibetan area, whose identity is being not exposed in this report, told VOA's Tibetan service that Chatring (Ch: Xiangchen) and Dhabpa (Ch: Daocheng) counties are considered to be worse in HIV/AIDS epidemic than Draggo County.