HIV/AIDS and Health Information Centre, Mangshi City, Yunnan, ChinaThursday, April 23rd, 2009
Our local partners opened up an HIV/AIDS and Health Information Centre in Mangshi during the summer of 2008. The purpose of this office was (a) generally, to provide an information centre for the people of Mangshi to come and find out more about HIV/AIDS and how to prevent and live with the disease and (b) specifically, to provide a safe place for sex workers to meet and receive prevention materials such as condoms, and a safe place to test their blood for HIV.
The centre is located in the middle of town adjacent to a busy market, and in a part of town where many sex workers live. A majority of the sex industry in town works from hotels and Karaoke bars, but there is a part of this industry, the poorest part, that work from their homes, and from the street. These women have no safe place to congregate and meet with each other, to discuss matters important to them and their lives, and to receive information and materials that may provide assistance in preventing the contraction and spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. The centre was designed with this group of women in mind.
I was able to meet with a group of women when I visited the centre; a few sex workers and one woman who was referred to (by herself and by the others) as “Momma.” The Momma provides some service to the girls for a fee, helping them with their work when they need assistance and acting as a buffer between them and the police. The women were sitting and watching TV, chatting amongst themselves in the centre when I arrived.
With Claire and a few others from our local partner group, we chatted for a while; Claire helped translate our discussion so that I could participate. Though I can speak Mandarin to some degree, these women were all from ethnic minority groups and it was difficult for me to understand the way the spoke.
The Momma explained how the women support each other and how they are organized. All of the women present except for the Momma were married, some with husbands in Mangshi, while others had husbands back in the villages they came from. All were poor and uneducated enough, without sufficient opportunities, to consider sex work as a viable and necessary means to an end. The Momma used to be a sex worker though rarely works in that capacity anymore. She is HIV positive herself and receives medication from the government to help her with that. She uses her personal experience with sex work and HIV to encourage the girls to be diligent about using condoms and makes sure they are readily available. If a customer insists on not using a condom she tells the girls to refuse to do business with that man.
I asked the women what they liked about the centre and if it was of value to them. They answered that they liked to have a safe place to meet, relax, and chat with each other. Mostly they meet and play mahjong, watch TV, read newspapers, and chat.
There was lots of chatting and laughter from our questions and our conversation, and we learned a lot. We saw how the centre can take blood and give an initial test for HIV on-site. If the test indicates a positive then the women go to the hospital for a more in-depth examination. There are many brochures and other printed information available, and health workers are always present in the centre to field questions from both sex workers and interested visitors alike. There is a meeting room upstairs, and a number of chairs, and a television, newspapers, and a comfortable area for sitting and chatting downstairs. We were able to support this centre through the purchase of the TV, tables, and chairs that visitors enjoy at the centre.