NEW: Chinese government assures shunned HIV-positive boy with treatment and education
Over 200 villagers sought to banish the boy, Kunkun, state media reported last week
Kunkun was expelled from school and ostracized by the community
UNAIDS estimates there are 780,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in China
The Chinese government has pledged to protect an eight-year-old boy with HIV, who was shunned by his entire village in the southwestern province of Sichuan, state media reported.
A photo from a People Daily’s online report last week showed the boy called “Kunkun,” watching villagers unanimously vote for his removal in a meeting held in early December. Even his own grandfather, added his name to the petition signed by more than 200 villagers.
“Kunkun is diagnosed with AIDS, causing great fear among the villagers and village children. In order to ensure the safety of villagers and children, we demand that authorities quarantine Kunkun for treatment,” the petition read.
In response, China’s health authority promised to assure Kunkun with the right to medical treatment, education and a living allowance, reported China Daily.
“Everyday life with an infected person doesn’t affect others’ health, and the infected person’s rights are protected by laws and regulations,” said Wu Zunyou, director of the National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention in a press release issued Saturday.
The United Nations had also released a statement expressing concern over the reports on Kunkun.
Villager: “He’s a ticking time bomb”
Kunkun – a pseudonym used to protect his identity – was expelled from school and ostracized by members of the community after he was diagnosed in 2011, said the People Daily’s newspaper.
“He’s a ticking time bomb. My daughter is around his age, and goes to a boarding school now. What happens if she gets bitten while playing with him here at home? That boy is too dangerous,” says He Jialing, one of the villagers.
The report said the boy contracted the disease from his mother before he was born.
Kunkun, whose parents are migrant workers in Guangzhou, lives with his 69-year-old grandfather. With no school willing to take him in, he is often found roaming the streets alone.
“No one wants to play with me,” the newspaper quoted Kunkun as saying.
His grandfather told local media the boy’s parents have stopped sending money back home since he was diagnosed.
In response to the petition, local authorities have stressed that Kunkun’s rights should be respected.
They plan to launch an educational campaign hoping to reduce the stigma of people living with HIV/AIDS.
China’s AIDS fight
Some 780,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS in China, according to the latest count by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in 2011.
People living with HIV or AIDS in China face widespread discrimination and stigma, especially in rural areas where there is a lack of education about the disease.
China has sought to tackle the stigma by establishing laws and regulations prohibiting discrimination against people with HIV.
China’s First Lady Peng Liyuan who was appointed World Health Organization’s goodwill ambassador for AIDS in 2011, has appeared in public advertisements holding hands and playing with HIV-positive children.
Despite China’s fight against AIDS, cases such as Kunkun’s suggest inconsistency with official policy.
READ MORE: Campaigners say discrimination hinders China’s AIDS fight
CNN’s Serena Dong and intern, Sherry Ju contributed to this report.