Shuping Wang, Public Health Whistleblower, Dies
Shuping Wang, Public Health Whistleblower, Dies

Shuping Wang, Public Health Whistleblower, Dies

The physician and researcher challenged the Chinese government over her findings of widespread hepatitis and HIV contamination during blood collection.

Sep 30, 2019
Emily Makowski

ABOVE: © ISTOCK.COM, LUOMAN

Shuping “Sunshine” Wang, a physician, researcher, and public health whistleblower during an AIDS epidemic in China, died September 21 while hiking, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. She was 59.

In the 1980s, Wang started her career as a doctor and hepatitis researcher in China. After testing blood serum samples from patients in 1992, she realized that the plasma collection station where she worked had unsanitary conditions for blood collection and processing, which led to cross-contamination that contributed to a widespread hepatitis C epidemic among people who donated and received plasma. After reporting her findings to officials, she was fired from her job, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Wang then joined the Zhoukou Health Bureau, where she found that 13 percent of blood donors were HIV-positive, and that at this facility as well, cross-contamination was responsible for spreading infection. The Health Bureau challenged her results and asked her to falsify her data in an official report to the provincial Department of Health, but she refused. A retired health official then vandalized her testing clinic.

Although blood collection stations in China eventually added HIV testing as a result of Wang’s findings, her clinic was shut down, according to her account of her experiences in a 2012 Canyu.com article that was translated into English by China Change. About a million farmers were infected with HIV from selling their blood plasma at Chinese collection sites during the epidemic, according to an obituary of Wang in The Washington Post.

In 2001, Wang moved to the United States, where she worked as a researcher at the Medical College of Wisconsin.  Several years later, she moved to Salt Lake City and took a position as a research associate in the Radiology and Imaging Sciences Lab at the University of Utah.

The King of Hell’s Palace, a play about Wang’s life written by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, opened at Hampstead Theatre in London on September 13 this year, amid pressure from Chinese security officials to cancel the show, reports The Guardian.

“Shuping was a remarkable person who demonstrated dedication to work and compassion for others,” says Amy Sikalis, the research director of the Radiology and Imaging Sciences Department at the University of Utah, in a statement emailed to The Scientist. “To know Shuping you would never imagine that prior to coming to America, she was at the heart of a public health scandal in China, and that later her story was told and performed. Shuping’s life was cut short, but she left our work place and world a better place.”

She is survived by her husband, three children, and brother.

Emily Makowski is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at emakowski@the-scientist.com.