Drug addicts infected with HIV receive humane care at rehab centers in Sichuan Province

By Hu Yuwei Source:Global Times Published: 2018/11/30 21:22:35

-Sichuan Province is struggling to deal with drug addiction, especially among the Yi ethnic group, which lives along a drug smuggling route

-The province has set up rehab centers specifically for drug addicts infected with the HIV virus

-Care includes books, arts programs, and pairing male and female inmates in different institutions as pen pals

Inmates at the Sichuan Provincial Women's Drug Rehab enjoy exercise as part of the program to kick their drug addictions. Photo: Hu Yuwei/GT


Drug addicts use virtual reality (VR) technology to help get over addiction. Photo: Hu Yuwei/GT


Every morning at 10 am, Li Duan has to line up and drinks a dose of methadone, a medication used for fighting heroin addiction. 

This is compulsory for all drug users at the Ziyang Drug Detox Rehab center in Southwest China's Sichuan Province. 

When drinking the brown-red oral syrup, people's forearms become momentarily exposed. Some addicts' arms are pocked with dense needle marks, a record of their long-term abuse.

Li stares at a patch of missing flesh on another inmate's arm. The scar occurred because of a complication from AIDS. All of the addicts in this group are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Li never imagined that one day he would be here.

As of June 30, China reported 820,756 people living with HIV and AIDS. 253,031 have died from complications due to the virus. 

Sichuan, the second-largest Chinese province, is struggling to deal with a growing drug problem and rising cases of HIV infection in the poverty-stricken Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan.    

Bordering Yunnan Province, the area lies on a trafficking route that stretches from the "Golden Triangle" in Southeast Asia into China. Heroin spread like a virus along the route after border trade opened in the 1980s. A number of villagers were lured into the illegal drug trade, while others became addicts.

In spite of their illegal behavior, the authority gives more treatment and humane care than punishment, offering free medicine, counseling and vocational training.

On the occasion of the 31th World Aids Day, this Global Times reporter walked into the drug rehab centers in Sichuan Province and talked with HIV-affected drug addicts about their life there. 

Addicts at the Women’s Drug Rehab learn the Yi ethnic minority style of painting. Photo: Hu Yuwei/GT

Humane care

The Ziyang Rehab Center, where Li is treated, is one of the earliest and largest drug rehabilitation centers in China to offer special and centralized treatment for male addicts with the HIV virus. 

It has accommodated more than 5,000 male addicts with HIV over the past decade. More than 4,000 people have returned to the society. 

The aim is to isolate drug abusers with HIV to prevent the spread of the virus, and offer them treatment and education. 

Li Duan, 21, was sent to the rehab center last August after his university classmates reported that he was taking drugs. This only child of his wealthy family never imagined that he would one day go from being a college student to being carted off in handcuffs. 

At the age of 17, due to the broken relationship between his parents, Li sought solace in drugs. A longtime heroin addiction caused him to burn through his life savings. At a drug party, under the stimulation of methamphetamine, he had sex with a drug addict, or as he said, "with whoever" . He was then infected with HIV by someone whose name he did not even know.

Before he came in, Li was red-eyed and jittery, with fear of being deprived of his liberty. When he actually arrived, he found that the atmosphere was far more harmonious and warm than he imagined. His accommodation is designed in the style of western Sichuan, which makes him feel relaxed.

Humane care is reflected in other details. The six-people wards in the infection area are classified in different colors according to how ill the inmates are.

The walls are padded and the beds have no sharp edges to prevent addicts from harming themselves. The sheets have cheerful cartoon characters.

Li Duan loves reading. The police try their best to satisfy him with whatever books he wants. They allow him to read until 11 o'clock at night every day. Based on his superior education level, Li was appointed the leader of the study group, inspiring others with his enthusiasm for learning. 

Apart from the study group, various vocational training courses and cultural activities are available. They are common and popular at most rehab centers across China. 

In the same way, the Sichuan Provincial Women's Detox Rehab Center inspires HIV-infected drug female abusers by organizing activities featuring the arts, including singing, ink painting and dancing. They also offer sports activities.

"Comfort them psychologically, accept them warmly" is the principle of the centers' humane management.

"Since the very first day we came here, we were called by our own names, not numbers. The police administer medicine for us personally. It made me more worried and aware of their wounds than they were. I am very cautious. They care about me, and I care about them as well. They make me feel cared for and accepted," Cai, a 19-year-old HIV infected drug abuser told the Global Times.

An HIV-infected drug addict does a fitness test at the Ziyang Rehab Center. Photo: Hu Yuwei/GT


HIV-infected drug addicts practice tai chi at the Ziyang Rehab Center. Photo: Hu Yuwei/GT


Scientific treatment

China began implementing a policy to help all Chinese infected with HIV since 2003. The policy provides free drugs to prevent the onset of or treat AIDS, free drugs to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission, free voluntary counseling and testing, free education for children orphaned by AIDS, and care for people living with HIV. 

Drug addicts infected with HIV are generally in poor physical condition and susceptible to disease. To overcome this, the Ziyang Rehab Center invites local specialized doctors to visit twice a week to solve the difficult and complicated HIV-related health issues. It also cooperates with local brain hospitals to continuously introduce medical equipment such as an ozone disinfector.

Both centers have hired professionals to create fitness classes. They offer tai chi and yoga training for AIDS addicts. The emotional catharsis room at the Ziyang man's Rehab Center is filled with plush toys, which make addicted men feel like little kids surrounded by love and warmth. 

"We are committed to seven aspects of training for infected people, namely: detoxification, physical rehabilitation, anti-relapse care, return to a healthy lifestyle, psychological development, vocational skills, and return to social adaptability," Wei Chuanxun, the head of the Provincial Women' Rehab center, told the Global Times.

Ziyang Rehab Center provides an intelligent shouting catharsis device for drug addicts and police to vent their emotions. Photo: Hu Yuwei/GT

Partner education, mutual marriage

In the two visited rehab centers, almost everyone has a "pen pal." This is an innovative attempt made by Sichuan drug rehab centers for "peer support rehabilitation." People in men's and women's centers are partnered, to encourage each other through letters, and strengthen their family and social responsibility. 

"In this way, they can open their minds to another person with a similar experience. In addition, many unmarried drug addicts who are infected with AIDS may be deeply worried about marriage, which will lead to feelings of inferiority and even despair, thus increasing the risk of relapse. By forming pairs, these addicts can find their life partners and facilitate each other to get rid of drugs," said Liu Jun, the director of the political office of Provincial Women's Drug Rehab.

Cai is always excited to receive a letter from her partner at Ziyang Rehab Center. The relief and admiration in the letter can often become her spiritual support for a couple of months. Receiving a letter has become Cai's sweetest moment in rehab. Cai says that when one of her fellow inmates was released, the inmate was picked up by her penpal, a former inmate of the Ziyang rehab center, and the two are still together now. This has become a fairy tale in Cai's mind. "I certainly hope to see my partner picking me up when I get out!" Cai told the Global Times.

The walls of the accommodations in the Ziyang Rehab Center are padded and the beds have no sharp edges to prevent addicts from harming themselves. Photo: Hu Yuwei/GT

Ethnic fusion

Sichuan Province is populated by the state's large but impoverished Yi ethnic minority. Located on a drug-trafficking route, young uneducated addicts take drugs as a cure for boredom, and see drug trafficking as a quick way to get money. 

With a low education level, poor understanding of HIV risks, and low participation in antiviral treatment among infected people, HIV-infected drug addicts from this minority pose a challenge to the management of drug treatment centers.

"With a separate language and alien customs, conflicts in their daily life at the rehab center are concern. Moreover, many dropped out of school at an early age, and speak only Yi, causing communication difficulties," Liu Jun told the Global Times.

"We have made a Yi-language video with important information to show them. Some Yi inmates who speak standard Chinese serve as a bridge in communication. In order to better promote interaction, we carry out 'cultural exchange activities of the Han and Yi.' We celebrate Yi festival together. Deeper understanding can lead to fewer conflicts. At the same time, we carry out bilingual education for Yi drug addicts to help reduce their illiteracy rate to better integrate into society," Liu said.

"In celebrating the New Year of  the Yi ethnic group together, I got a chance to try tuotuo meat (a typical Yi cuisine) and learn about their history, costumes, languages and customs," said Li Duan. "I am thankful for this experience, to be honest, for being exposed into a cultural infusion. The Yi and Han people in our dormitory are very united, and they will humbly ask me for the books and knowledge I have read."

Drug treatment centers do not escape the challenges that still exist in anti-narcotics efforts. Li Bing, the head of the Ziyang Rehab Center, said that more attention and support should be given to such problems as tight funding, backward equipment and a shortage of professionals. 

"Offering antiviral treatment for AIDS is a systematic and complex project. At present, there are only 8 wards and 30 beds in the medical center of Ziyang rehab centre. It is difficult to separate the general ward from the infectious disease ward, failing to meet the strict requirements for the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases," said Li.

"Additionally, in recent years, the proportion of people who take new-type drugs has increased. Some AIDS infected drug addicts display abnormal words and deeds and other mental symptoms. But our medical center does not have a professional psychiatrist. We are unable to provide accurate diagnosis and treatment services," said Li Bing.

Li suggests that next they plan to strengthen collaboration with local health and disease control institutions, as well as other social organizations. 

It aims to jointly promote an AIDS treatment network that involves the participation of the whole society.

Some dorms for AIDS addicts are plastered with pictures of narcotics to help desensitize them to drugs. Photo: Hu Yuwei/GT


Newspaper headline: Rehab For Humanity

Posted in: IN-DEPTH

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