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Every day, around 50 tons of food waste arrives at a factory outside of Jinan (Tế Nam), China. That is equal to the weight of seven adult elephants.

Once it arrives, the food waste goes through pipes and into individual cells made of wood.

There, about one billion cockroaches wait to feed.

People usually see these insects as dirty pests. But in China, they are seen for their environmental – and economic - value.

Ever-growing Chinese cities like Jinan are creating more food waste than they have room for in landfills. Cockroaches are not only able to get rid of food waste, they can become healthy food for farm animals. The insects’ remains are even said to offer cures for stomach problems and other health issues in humans.

Liu Yusheng is president of Shandong (Sơn Đông) Insect Industry Association. Liu calls cockroaches a “bio-technological pathway” for turning kitchen waste into something useful.

The food waste arrives at the Jinan factory before the sun rises. Shandong Qiaobin Agricultural Technology Co. operates the factory. It has plans to open three more next year, and hopes to process one-third of the food waste produced by Jinan’s seven million people.

A recent spread of African swine fever led China to ban the use of food waste as food for pigs. But cockroaches that eat the food waste can become a protein-rich source of food for pigs and other farm animals.

Shandong Qiaobin chairwoman Li Hongyi describes the process as “turning trash into resources.”

‘Great economic value’

Thousands of kilometers away, in a small village in Sichuan province, Li Bingcai has similar ideas.

Li, who is 47, used to sell mobile phones. He has invested one million yuan, about $143,000, in cockroaches. He sells them to pig farms and fisheries. He also sells them to drug companies, which use the insects in medicine. And sometimes, the cockroaches provide a tasty treat for his family.

Li’s farm now has 3.4 million cockroaches.

“People think it’s strange that I do this kind of business,” Li said. “It has great economic value, and my goal is to lead other villagers to prosperity if they follow my lead.”

His village currently has two farms. But Li’s goal is to create 20.

The world’s largest cockroach farm

In the Sichuan city of Xichang, a company called Gooddoctor has about six billion cockroaches. It claims it is the biggest cockroach farm in the world, and uses artificial intelligence, or AI, to both control and grow its roach population.

Cockroaches live for about six months. Once they die, the insects are treated with steam. Next, they are washed and dried. Then, the clean remains are sent to a huge nutrient removal container.

The extracts are then used in medicines that Gooddoctor produces.

Wen Jianguo oversees the Gooddoctor cockroach center. Wen says the cockroach extracts can be used for treating ulcers, skin wounds and even stomach cancer. Chinese researchers are also looking into using cockroach extract in face treatments and hair-loss products.

The South China Morning Post recently reported that about 40 million people in China use Gooddoctor’s cockroach extract to treat stomach problems and other sicknesses. The company sells to 4,000 hospitals around the country.

The cockroaches at Gooddoctor never leave the controlled, warm, dark area that Wen oversees.

But, could the farm’s six billion insects ever escape? Wen admits a mass escape would make for a good disaster movie. But he has taken steps to prevent that from ever happening.

“We have a moat filled with water and fish,” Wen said. “If the cockroaches escape, they will fall into the moat and the fish will eat them all.”

I’m Ashley Thompson. And I'm Caty Weaver.



New research shows that more than 30 years into the HIV/AIDS epidemic, African women living with the HIV still face much stigma and discrimination. The study says it’s affecting efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the AIDS virus.

The community-led research was commissioned by the World Health Organization and done in Kenya, Namibia and Nigeria. The study was conducted by the International Community of Women Living with HIV – or ICW -- and the Global Network of People Living with HIV.

Margaret Happy, an ICW advocacy officer based in Kampala, Uganda, says stigma and discrimination in health care settings “is hampering efforts to scale-up early infant diagnosis of HIV.”

“The stigma is still existing, one, because of information. When I talk about information it is a two way. Information for the service providers, but also information for us as the community of people living with HIV and in this case I’m going to focus on the woman living with HIV,” she said.

Happy said despite current information about HIV prevention efforts, many health providers and employees in Africa fail to acknowledge it. For example, the use of antiretroviral drugs to prevent infection.

“They already know that treatment is prevention. Although most of them have heard that if someone is on HIV is on treatment – is on ART treatment – he or she is less infectious – they still think that provided someone has been tested HIV positive the person can still infect them. So, due to lack of information, due to limited information by health service providers, they still have that stigma,” said Happy. (ART = Anti- Retroviral Therapy = liệu pháp điều trị kháng vi-rút)

But she also said there’s an attitude problem among many health workers.

“The negative attitude – the negative perception by health service providers – also fuels stigma.”

One Nigerian woman said in the report that instead of talking to her, nurses shouted and laughed at her because of her HIV status.

Happy said pregnant women are often surrounded by relatives when they go to health care facilities or are giving birth. The relatives may not know the woman is HIV positive until health workers test the child for HIV.

“It causes deferential treatment or it even causes violence, separation, divorce. And now the situation is worse by also the legal environment. The legal environment, which is not enabling. The legal environment which criminalizes a disease, which criminalizes HIV, for instance, in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and other countries,” she said.

Happy said that HIV-positive women often impose stigma upon themselves because of their economic dependence on men, either as daughters, partners or spouses. Fear of separation, divorce or violence can prevent women from disclosing their HIV status.

The report is entitled "Early Infant Diagnosis: Understanding the Perceptions, Values and Preferences of Women Living with HIV in Kenya, Namibia and Nigeria." It was released at the 8th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention in Vancouver, Canada.

The World Health Organization is considering new recommendations based on the study. One would be to test infants born to women living with HIV at birth and then again four to six weeks later. Supporters said this would reduce a woman’s anxiety about her baby’s health. Another recommendation would be to teach the women how to care for and feed the infant early on.

The report also called for women living with HIV “to be provided with information about testing options to give them time to make an informed choice about when to test. The ICW said the choice must be respected and the human rights of the mother protected.

UNICEF, the U.N. Children’s Fund, reported about 900 children are newly infected with HIV every day, nearly all of them in sub-Saharan Africa. It said 57 percent of pregnant women living with HIV received antiretrovirals to prevent the virus from being transmitted to their babies. But UNICEF also said only 35 percent of infants born to HIV positive mothers in low and middle income countries were tested for the virus within the first two months of life.

Joe DeCapua - Washington

Composed & Edited by Lê Quốc An
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