Gao Yaojie, a doctor and activist who brought attention to the AIDS crisis in rural China, has passed away at the age of 95 after living in exile.
Famous Chinese physician and advocate Gao Yaojie, who brought attention to the AIDS epidemic in rural China during the 1990s, passed away at the age of 95 in her residence in the United States. Gao’s boldness in speaking out about the virus outbreak caused discomfort for the Chinese government and led her to reside in self-imposed exile for more than ten years in Manhattan, New York.
After publicly denouncing the blood-selling schemes that resulted in the spread of HIV to thousands of people, Gao became a prominent AIDS advocate in China. Despite initial resistance, the Chinese government eventually recognized her efforts to address the AIDS crisis, which continued to be a major issue in the country until the 2000s. In 2009, she relocated to the U.S. and began giving speeches and authoring books about her personal involvement with the issue.
Famous Chinese physician and advocate Gao Yaojie, who brought attention to the spread of AIDS in rural China during the 1990s, passed away on Sunday at 95 years old in her home in the United States.
Gao’s outspokenness about the virus outbreak — which some gauged to have infected tens of thousands — embarrassed the Chinese government and drove her to live in self-exile for over a decade in Manhattan, New York.
Andrew J. Nathan, a professor at Columbia University and an authority on Chinese politics who held Gao’s legal power of attorney and oversaw some of her matters, verified her passing.
After publicly denouncing blood-selling schemes that led to the spread of HIV among thousands of people in her native Henan province, Gao became the most renowned advocate for AIDS awareness in China. Despite initial resistance, her efforts were eventually recognized to some degree by the Chinese government, which was still struggling to address the AIDS epidemic well into the 2000s.
Gao’s efforts were acknowledged by global entities and authorities. In 2009, she relocated to the United States and started giving presentations and publishing books detailing her journey.
During a previous interview with the Associated Press, she stated that she remained resilient against government pressure and continued her work because it is the responsibility of everyone to assist their own community. As a doctor, it is her duty and she believes it is worth it.
She expressed her belief that Chinese authorities should confront the truth and address the actual problems, rather than trying to conceal them.
Gao, a traveling gynecologist, used to travel long distances to provide medical care to patients in isolated villages. In 1996, she encountered her first HIV-positive patient, a woman who had contracted the virus through a contaminated transfusion during surgery. The local blood bank often used unsterilized needles and would combine leftover blood from farmers to use for future transfusions, which greatly increased the risk of spreading viruses like HIV.
During that time, Gao conducted an investigation by visiting households. She often came across heartbreaking situations where parents were succumbing to AIDS and their children were being orphaned. It is believed that there were tens of thousands of HIV infections during that period, but the government did not conduct a national survey in an attempt to hide the crisis.
Gao delivered food, clothes and medicine to ailing villagers. She spoke out about the AIDS epidemic, capturing the attention of local media and angering local governments, which often backed the reckless blood banks. Officials repeatedly tried to prevent her from traveling abroad, where she was being celebrated for her work.
In 2001, the government denied her request for a passport in order to attend a ceremony held by a United Nations organization in the U.S. In 2007, officials in Henan placed her under house arrest for approximately 20 days in order to stop her from traveling to Beijing to obtain a U.S. visa for another award. However, they were later overruled by the central government, which permitted her to leave China. Upon arriving in Washington, D.C., Gao expressed her gratitude to then-President Hu Jintao for granting her permission to travel.
Gao was born on Dec. 19, 1927, in the eastern Shandong province. She grew up during a tumultuous time in China’s history, which included a Japanese invasion and a civil war that brought the Communist Party to power under Mao Zedong.
She relocated with her family to Henan and pursued a medical education at a nearby university. She faced physical abuse from Maoist “red guards” during the Cultural Revolution, a tumultuous period that started in 1966, because her family had been landowners. She continued to hold negative views towards Mao even in her later life.
Following the spread of news about her passing on Monday, Chinese social media was inundated with expressions of sympathy, while others voiced disapproval towards her decision to relocate to the United States and her opposition towards the Chinese government.
According to a commenter on Weibo, Dr. Gao Yaojie has devoted her entire life to helping AIDS patients, and those with a moral compass will never forget her.