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Print Edition> Nation
UPDATED: December 19, 2011 NO. 51 DECEMBER 22, 2011
A Goal of Zero
As the picture of HIV/AIDS in China becomes more complex, more efforts are needed

Yu and his colleagues have been engaged in safeguarding the rights of HIV-positive job seekers since 2010. The organization played a key role in initiating the first lawsuit regarding discrimination against HIV-positive job seekers on the Chinese mainland in October 2010.

The plaintiff was a 23-year-old HIV-positive man, who was denied a teaching job by the Education Bureau of Anqing City in east China's Anhui Province in August 2010, after passing written exams and interviews. He was rejected on the basis that civil servants must pass a medical exam.

The court ruled against him one month after the case was first heard.

"The case was a landmark for HIV-positive job seekers," Yu said. "Since it was filed, another two HIV carriers in Guizhou and Sichuan provinces also took legal actions on the grounds of discrimination by employers. But their cases soon fell out of the public eye."

According to the 2006 Regulations on HIV/AIDS Prevention and Treatment, PLWHA, as well as their families, have the right to medical treatment, education, employment and marriage licenses. However, many organizations in China still regard HIV-positive people as physically unqualified for jobs.

Comparatively, the problem of discrimination is even more severe when it comes to medical treatment.

HIV carriers and AIDS patients face medical discrimination and are frequently referred to specialized hospitals for infectious diseases after being denied treatment at general hospitals, according to a study released by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and China's National Center for AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases Control and Prevention on May 17.

The study was based on interviews with 103 PLWHA and 23 healthcare workers. Another survey by the center found 12.1 percent of the HIV-positive respondents had experienced denial of medical treatment at least once.

"Stigma and discrimination in the healthcare system largely stemming from low awareness is potentially more deadly than AIDS itself," said Ann Herbert, Director of the ILO Office for China and Mongolia.

Meng Lin, Coordinator of the Secretariat of the Chinese Alliance for PLWHA, said denial of surgery was one of the most pressing issues facing PLWHA. In some cases, PLWHA were even denied medical treatment for simple procedures such as hemorrhoids and the cleaning and stitching of wounds.

"The existence of designated infectious disease hospitals becomes a convenient excuse for general hospitals to turn PLWHA away," said Meng, who added that "unnecessary" HIV/AIDS testing before surgery had left many sufferers feeling exposed and reduced their chances of getting proper medical services.

Due to the lack of comprehensive treatment facilities, most infectious disease hospitals in China cannot provide comprehensive medical services, especially major operations.

"Almost 80 percent of designated hospitals surveyed can only deal with HIV/AIDS symptoms. They are unable to deal with other diseases, even simple conditions such as appendicitis. As a result, many patients' conditions worsen due to a lack of effective treatment," Meng said

Zhang Ke, Deputy Director of the Infectious Disease Department of Beijing Youan Hospital, a designated HIV/AIDS hospital, said that many people are misinformed about designated hospitals.

"As far as I know, many doctors have the idea that only designated hospitals are responsible for the treatment of PLWHA," Zhang said. "In fact, we are not general practitioners. We can help patients with their HIV/AIDS symptoms, but not with problems related to their eyes, teeth and bones."

According to Zhang, sometimes he or his colleagues have to invite doctors in general hospitals to perform surgery on PLWHA. But some doctors in other hospitals are reluctant to help.

According to media reports, the possibility of HIV infection through even the close contact required by surgery can be reduced to 4 in 100,000 after going through emergency treatment within the first four hours of contact and using antiretroviral drugs in the following three weeks.

Meng called on relevant authorities to develop precautionary measures for doctors treating PLWHA and to establish a compensation system for possible infection accidents.

In fact, the Chinese Government has already identified access to medical services by PLWHA as an area requiring greater intervention efforts.

The country's Regulations on HIV/AIDS Prevention and Treatment clearly state that medical institutions should not turn away patients with HIV/AIDS or refuse treatment on the grounds that a patient is infected.

In December 2010, the State Council issued a notice, announcing more detailed measures to eliminate discrimination and protect the legitimate rights and interests of PLWHA in accessing health services.

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