Drug addiction and HIV in China

>> Chasing the Dragon, The Irish Times (July 5, 2008)

This is an older article that I only just got around to reading.  I wish I’d read it sooner, but it was definitely worth the wait: this is fascinating stuff.  Here’s a summary from the website:

 CHINA CRISIS: The Chinese Communist party had largely stamped out drug addiction after taking power, but growing wealth means hard-drug use – and HIV infection rates – are now on the rise., Drug prisons are overflowing and a number of centres, some run by underground religious organisations, are tackling the problem with education and treatment, writes Clifford Coonan.

This excellent article looks at the problem of drug addiction in China from a number of different angles, from the legal to the historical (drug abuse has often been seen as “a symbol of Chinese humiliation at foreign hands” — think Opium Wars).  The bulk of the article, however, looks at personal stories, including several related to a treatment facility called the Daytop Center, where “heartbreaking tales of addiction” mingle with “stories of hope.”

I found the following story especially interesting:

For some recovering addicts, religion has been a help, and missionaries working in secret for underground churches work with users, even though religion outside of the officially approved churches is banned by the Communist party.

“I got off drugs when I became Christian two years ago. A missionary from New Zealand introduced me to Jesus Christ and He gave me the power to stop using heroin,” says one recovering addict.

“Since then I have been 100 per cent clean. Now I help with the Daytop needle-exchange programme by collecting and distributing needles discretely to my old friends that I know from when I was still using. I am the only Christian at Daytop,” she says. *

The article ends by looking at an organization formed to address the problems of drug abuse and HIV in Yunnan province, a major opium-producing region:

At the Kunming Educational Institute, a local organisation in the town that deals with HIV issues, project office director Yang Yin believes education can reduce discrimination and fear. […]

With 14 administrative areas and a population of nearly seven million, spreading the word is a challenge, but the issue is becoming more acute as HIV/Aids spreads through the drug-using community. “The problem of HIV/Aids is particularly difficult in Yunnan. Drug abuse and sex are two major ways of transmission, so we find using education is an effective way of getting through to the most vulnerable groups,” says Yang.

* You can read more about this phenomenon in Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori’s outstanding book, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007).  Pages 99-105 are particularly relevant — they discuss a remarkable ministry aimed at helping heroin addicts in Hong Kong.  I have to add a little plug for the book as a whole: I had to read it for a class on global Christianity last spring, and it’s absolutely incredible.  Featuring lots of individual stories and interviews, it highlights some fascinating people, churches, and broader developments from around the world.


~ by h.e.g. on September 4, 2008.

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