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China Permits Anti-AIDS Campaigner to Accept US Award

Beijing: China is to allow a pioneering doctor, currently under house arrest in Henan province, to travel to the United States to accept an award for her work on behalf// of HIV/AIDS patients, it was confirmed Saturday.

"An official told me I had permission to travel," retired professor Gao Yaojie, 79, told DPA from her home in Henan, where police have been holding her under house arrest for two weeks.

Gao has led the way in exposing a scandal of mass HIV/AIDS infection through government-run or illegal blood-selling schemes in Henan, and the covering up of the problem by local officials who were content to leave infected people to their fate.

She has fought for many years to secure drugs and money for HIV/AIDS infected people in her home province, carrying out what she sees as a basic moral duty.

The US-based AIDS group Vital Voices, founded by Hillary Clinton in 1997, chose to honour Gao for her work to "promote legal rights among women in China" and had invited her to a March ceremony in Washington.

However, after refusing to comply with requests from health officials to decline the invitation, Gao was detained at home by provincial authorities.

The incident prompted international condemnation, including from the US government. Gao on Saturday remained uncertain as to whether the trip would yet take place.

"The official told me I could, but who knows if I really can travel," she said. Gao was due to travel to Beijing next Friday to collect her visa before travelling on to the US.

Henan health officials have admitted up to 100,000 people may have been infected through selling their blood since the mid-1980s, though some estimates put the number infected at 500,000 to 700,000.

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