BORN DYING                     

Xiaohua is 12 and lives in a province in South China. She is a happy girl who smiles a lot and likes to talk to her friends after school. People who see Xiaohua would never guess that she is one of millions of children in the world living and dying with AIDS.

AIDS is a disease that breaks down the body's immune system and leaves a person defenseless against infections and illnesses. Most people who have AIDS manage to survive only a few years after they get the disease. For some, medicine can help keep them alive, but the treatment is expensive and does not cure them.

People get AlDS after having been infected with HIV. HIV spreads through blood and other body liquids. People transmit HIV by having unprotected sex, by receiving infected blood transfusions or, as in Xiao Hua's case, through birth.  Xiao Hua's mother contracted HIV when she was 28, and she died of AIDS only three years after Xiaohua was born. Xiao Hua's mother did not know that she had AIDS until Xiaohua was born. Xiao Hua's father, who also has AIDS, takes care of her, but Xiaohua misses her mother. "I wish I could remember more about my mum," Xiaohua says, "I wish that she were here with me and that we weren't sick. "

Thousands of children become infected with HIV every day. In 2002, 800,000 children under 15 became infected; the total number of infected children in the world was 3.2 million. The disease is spreading fast in Africa and parts of Asia, mainly because of a lack of proper health care, prevention and education. As with most diseases and disasters, the young suffer the most. 

For children like Xiaohua there is little hope. The drugs that are available are much too expensive. Xiaohua knows that she will die before she has a chance to grow old, but she does not let that knowledge discourage her. Instead, she has decided to use the limited time she has left to do something to help others. She spends much of her time telling others about her disease and encouraging people to learn how to protect themselves. She also goes to visit other AIDS patients in hospitals across the country to support them and cheer them up. “If I were to live long enough to have a job, I would choose to be a doctor, helping these AIDS patients," Xiaohua says.

The disease is not the only thing that AIDS patients suffer from. They also have to deal with people's fear of the disease. Many people do not know very much about AIDS and are afraid that any contact with people who have AIDS is dangerous. Xiaohua is trying to change this by creating a network of patients and doctors that can persuade hospitals and companies to spend more money on AIDS research and education. "I wish people would find out the facts," she says, "and not act as if I were a bad or dangerous person."  When she talks to people about her disease, she and Dr Wang, an AIDS specialist who helps Xiaohua, often tell people that the most dangerous thing is not knowing about the disease. They explain how AIDS spreads and let people know that it is safe to shake hands, talk, and eat with someone who has AIDS. People often ask what they can do to help. "If I were you," Xiaohua says, " I would give an AIDS patient a hug. That is the best way to show that you care and that we don't have to feel lonely."

Xiaohua has learnt to live with HlV and the fact that she will one day develop AIDS. She knows that her life won't be as long as her classmates', but she will not let the disease destroy her happiness. "My life may have to be short," she says," but there's no reason why it can't be beautiful."

(Senior English for China  Student's Book 2A  Unit 7   Reading)



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