Beijing: The plight of a Chinese boy with the HIV virus, reportedly pushed to leave his home by 200 villagers who signed a petition, sparked intense online soul-searching in the country on Thursday.
The case has highlighted the stigma attached to HIV in China, where many sufferers face widespread discrimination.
The boy`s guardian, his grandfather, was among those in the southwestern Sichuan province who signed an agreement to expel the eight-year-old to "protect villagers` health", the Global Times reported.
The newspaper, with close ties to the ruling Communist Party, said the boy contracted the virus from his mother, and was diagnosed when he received injuries for minor treatment in 2011.
Previous reports said the boy -- who was given the pseudonym Kunkun by Chinese media -- was refused admission to local schools and villagers would avoid contact with him.
"Nobody plays (with me), I play alone," Kunkun said, according to a report Wednesday on the website of the People`s Daily newspaper, the official mouthpiece of Communist Party.
The website also said Kunkun was referred to as a "time bomb" in the petition.
"The villagers sympathise with him, he is innocent, and only a small child," Wang Yishu, party chief of Shufangya village, told the website.
"But his HIV and AIDS is too scary for us."
The Global Times said the boy`s mother left the family in 2006, while his father "lost contact" after Kunkun`s condition was diagnosed.
The case sparked much debate on China`s Twitter-like Sina Weibo, where it was the most widely-discussed topic on Thursday morning, with many asking how people could be so cold-hearted towards the boy.
"Why was he ruthlessly neglected, it is so unfair to him," one poster said.
"This is because the Chinese population cannot get enough education, causing ignorance and panic," said another.
China`s National Health and Family Planning Commission said earlier this month that by the end of October, a total of 497,000 people in China had been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS since the country`s first case in 1985. China has a population of 1.36 billion.
Discrimination against those with HIV/AIDS remains an issue at schools, hospitals, workplaces and other establishments across the country, a factor that experts say hampers efforts to diagnose and treat the virus.