In China, you can choose when and where you will get your medicine. And you only need to get your medicine once every three months. You go inside a primary clinic and approach the person at the medicine prescription counter who gives out medicine for all kinds of ailments—from simple flu tablets to Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) for Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS). People who will see you fall in line will not know what medicine you are taking. There is privacy and confidentiality.
This is just one of the many effective approaches used in the care of persons with HIV or AIDS, as shared by Chung To, founder and chairperson of Hong Kong’s Chi Heng Foundation (CHF)—the largest charitable NGO effort focused on helping children impacted and orphaned by AIDS in China.
Chung was one of the invited speakers to the Asian Forum on Enterprise for Society (AFES), an international conference convened by the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) and the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF).
The two-day (April 17-18) conference gathered business leaders, visionary thinkers, social entrepreneurs, Corporate Social Responsiblity (CSR) practitioners, and policy makers in dialogues that had one theme—“The Future Re-Imagined,” creating lasting values in an uncertain world.
Chung, a 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Emergent Leadership, had spent almost 20 years of his life helping chart a better future for children impacted by HIV in China.
In founding the CHF in 1998, this former banker, had over the years sponsored the education of some 20,000 children orphaned by AIDS, with more than 3,000 of them reaching and finishing college.
“I never thought of starting my own foundation. Initially, I thought I could volunteer for other groups. But then after I looked at China, when there were no other people doing what I was doing, I decided to start the foundation,” To said.
The CHF has 13 offices in Hong Kong and China and fights discrimination against people with HIV, funding initiatives in AIDS prevention and care. Its programs are funded by private donors, business, and partner NGOs.
At age 14, Chung went to the United States to live with his father. This was in the early 80s, when AIDS, then described as a ‘mysterious illness.’ started grabbing newspaper headlines in San Francisco.
“At that time there was still no explanation. When you lived at the epicenter of a new disease, it would be impossible not to be impacted. During my high school years, my high school teacher died of AIDS.”
Chung added that in the mid-80s, people with AIDS “were stigmatized” in the US. They got stripped of their rights to education and to employment.
This experience goaded him to get involved in HIV work and hospice care with several volunteer organizations in America.
Chung worked for Lehman Brothers, and later, for the Swiss bank UBS, which posted him in Hong Kong in 1995.
The work took him to some remote parts of China, where Chung met people who still have not heard of AIDS. He also came across children orphaned by AIDS because their parents died of AIDS.
“They (families) were very poor to begin with. They sold their blood to make some money. But then, when they contracted HIV, they lost all the money and were even poorer. Their children became orphans when they died. So we started to take care of the children,” Chung said.
Chung said that around 70% of their program staff in CHF are AIDS orphans that they supported through university. “After graduation, they came back to work for us. It’s very effective for the beneficiaries. They can also see the future.”
This graduate of Business and Management from Columbia University, with a master’s degree in East Asian Studies from Harvard University, has learned from experience that recruiting staff from affected communities makes for an effective HIV prevention program.
“If you are in the sex workers’ community or a gay community and send nurses or non-gay members to do it, it will be more difficult to gain the trust of the people you’re trying to serve. It’s a lot more effective to find members in that community and work with them than having outsiders do the job,” Chung said, adding that those from the community approach their work with more sympathy and understanding.
For Chung, it is possible to have a “good and inclusive” health care approach to AIDS.
“We use, for example, the direct-observation model. We mobilize local villagers to go around the block to physically watch and make sure that the people with HIV or AIDS get their medicine on time. Adherence to being on time is important so that the virus does not develop a resistance to the drugs. It is a primitive method but it works in a resource poor but high density setting. This means that in these villages we have a lot of patients. We give incentive to those who are being observed by giving them chicken-eggs as a reward,” he said.
Chung said that one of his greatest joys is to see children orphaned by AIDS have a better future. “Whether they graduated from the university, get married, have children or make bread in the social bakery. When they have better development, it means we are succeeding.” G