April 21, 2009
Lauren Burke '09 is the lead researcher and coauthor of the newly released report "I Will Fight to My Last Breath: Barriers to AIDS Treatment for Children in China." Launched by Asia Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that supports grassroots efforts on behalf of economic and social rights in Asia, the report is the product of Burke's three-month investigation of the state of China's pediatric HIV/AIDS treatment. Burke will discuss the report as part of an April 28 panel at NYU Law moderated by Professor Jerome Cohen.
The report details the problems faced by Chinese children living with HIV and AIDS, including cost-prohibitive medicines and healthcare, inadequate health services in rural areas, and widespread discrimination against HIV-positive persons. Recommendations include better treatment access and testing procedures, legal aid to support individuals facing discrimination, improved education about the disease, and mental healthcare for children with HIV/AIDS.
Burke spent a month in Yunnan Province and another two months in Beijing, visiting hospitals, treatment centers, and NGOs. She conducted more than 30 interviews, a process complicated by the reluctance of many to disclose their HIV status because of the serious repercussions involved. Children known to be HIV-positive are frequently barred from attending school or refused medical treatment.
While Burke is encouraged by certain developments, such as recent indications that the government could make more widely available the second-line drugs used when children become resistant to their current regimen of AIDS medication, she stressed that such actions merely scratch the surface: "The problems are so vast and so many and so holistic that just throwing drugs at the problem isn't going to fix it.... It's not just a problem of people living with HIV and AIDS, it's the problem of the education system that needs to teach children how you can actually get infected. It's a national discrimination and stigma problem as well."
She and Asia Catalyst chose to focus on the treatment of children with HIV/AIDS in China, Burke said, because of the relative lack of information on that subject: "There's so much focus on the AIDS epidemic in Africa or Brazil that people forget it does exist in China, and China has the potential to become the country with the largest epidemic percentage-wise because of the rate of growth of the disease."
There are also, Burke added, lessons to be learned closer to home. "Issues of poverty affect everything in the world," she said. "It was great to explore those issues on the healthcare level, and also to compare them with healthcare issues we have in the United States. A lot of immigrant populations in the United States don't have the kind of healthcare that regular citizens have, so you can compare them in many ways with rural Chinese residents, as odd as that sounds."