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Howard Brown Begins HIV Testing in China

Groundbreaking Achievement Is First of Its Kind

  • CHICAGO, April 1 /U.S. Newswire/ -- As the premier LGBT health
    care organization in the Midwest, Howard Brown Health Center
    (HBHC) has been a forerunner in HIV medicine since the disease
    became rampant in the 1980s. Now, in an ongoing global effort,
    the Center 's "China Project" has taken a significant leap forward
    this month by staging the first-ever HIV rapid testing and
    counseling within at-risk communities in China.

    A month-long visit to Zhejiang Province on China's southeast
    coast resulted in Howard Brown staff working in gay bars and
    brothels, conducting HIV testing, counseling, and prevention among
    gay men and female sex workers -- populations shunned by society
    and most seriously threatened by the spread of HIV.

    Three HBHC staff members, including Executive Director Keith
    Waterbrook, spent two weeks implementing the initial hands-on
    phase of a five-year process. A fourth Howard Brown representative
    remained for an additional two weeks to oversee Chinese health
    care outreach workers as they continue implementation of this
    groundbreaking effort.

    The journey was not without obstacles. "It's a very delicate
    situation," says Waterbrook after over thirty visits to China, "to
    get involved with these at-risk populations in China." Finally,
    Waterbrook urged his hosts to stay the course, and The China
    Project moved forward. "I nodded. They nodded. It was thumbs-up."

    Underlying fears of Chinese health staff and bar owners would
    not deter the effort to use Abbott Laboratories' donated Rapid HIV
    tests in Hangzhou and Ningbo, two economically flourishing cities
    that, like all metropolitan communities, house significant at-risk
    populations. Of thirty gay men who tested over the first two
    weekends, one tested positive for HIV. But well over a million
    Chinese are said to be infected, many unaware of their HIV status.

    "They are where we were back in the early 1980s," according to
    Scott Cook, director of community services at Howard Brown and one
    of the center's delegates to China. "The stigma around HIV is
    still very significant over there." Because of the stigma, Cook
    acknowledged the need for anonymous testing and confidential
    treatment. "People will not seek treatment (in China) unless they
    are sure it is confidential. Confidentiality is a necessity, and
    the Chinese are working on it."

    While Waterbrook, Cook, and Dan Taussig oversaw and conducted
    testing in the bars and brothels, Howard Brown Medical Director
    Dr. Leigh Roberts visited hospitals in both cities to begin
    creation of outpatient services related to HIV. In evaluating
    medical needs and the ability of these hospitals to care for HIV-
    positive patients, Roberts was struck most by her experiences with
    Chinese physicians. "The doctors were deeply, deeply hungry for
    information (about HIV)," she says, adding that some hospital
    staff are clearly afraid to care for HIV-infected persons.

    Chinese health workers, trained by Howard Brown staff, will
    continue Saturday night testing in a Hangzhou gay bar and brothels
    (referred to by the Chinese as "recreation centers") in Ningbo --
    a practice once unheard of but finally, a reality. "It was very
    moving to me that we were going to make history here," says
    Roberts. "These moments make history."

    Howard Brown Health Center is the Midwest's premier Lesbian,
    Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender health care organization, and leads
    the region in addressing comprehensive health care needs of people
    in the LGBT community. HBHC is a multi-site operation, including
    Triad Health and the Brown Elephant Resale Stores. The Center
    provides an expansive network of programs and services through a
    qualified staff of licensed health care practitioners, renowned
    research professionals, and prominent community leaders.

  • Press Release 2004 US Newswire

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