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Two leaders who stared down the snake

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Two people on separate continents— one a Chinese doctor, the other a Nigerian activist—have bucked tremendous pressure and scorn to lead entire villages out of the despair and destruction of AIDS epidemics.

Here are their stories:

Kabiti Ishaya’s family ostracized her when she told them that a rapist had infected her with HIV. Moving to a shack on the outskirts of town, she began helping other HIV/AIDS patients and formed her own group, Hope for the Living.

As a rumor spread that Nigeria’s president had given Ishaya a big wad of cash to operate the group, beggars besieged Ishaya, including the relatives who’d rejected her.

Forced to flee again, Ishaya now advocates for AIDS relief from a remote settlement, where she notes that the fight against AIDS centers in big cities, expensive hotels, fancy cars and offices, while rural patients get nothing.

“I can’t stand it and will speak the truth,” she says.

Gui Xien never thought AIDS would become a serious medical problem in China, so when he visited distant villages as a favor to another doctor, he was shocked to find an epidemic.

It turns out the poor rice farmers there, who donated blood to make money, were infected by dirty needles.

Gui informed the health officials of Henan province but ran into a political quagmire. They didn’t want to blame the outbreak on a government program and barred Gui from returning. He had to sneak back in, take samples and pay for lab tests himself.

This time, he reported the results directly to the national government in Beijing, where they were taken seriously. The provincial authorities could no longer hide the epidemic.

Today, a health clinic in Gui’s first village cares for patients. A home shelters survivors. And Gui’s main clinic at Wuhan University has become a national model for AIDS treatment.

— Adapted from “AIDS Whistle-Blower” Alice Park, and “Truth Teller,” Michael D. Lemonick and Gilbert Da Costa, Time.

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