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HIV/AIDS victims still battling bias

May 15, 2009

Despite constant efforts by the government to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS, discrimination against the disease is still rife among Chinese people, including health professionals.

A recent survey by the Chinese Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 46 percent of the 9,000 people polled who do not work in the medical field discriminated against HIV/AIDS sufferers. Among the 7,700 health workers surveyed, 25 percent discriminated against people living with HIV/AIDS.

The discrimination tends to take the form of avoiding the sufferers, or to be unwilling to shake hands, talk or dine with them. The survey was conducted in 18 cities of seven provinces including Jilin, Gansu and Liaoning.

Bai Laoshi with the Beijing-based Ark of Love, a support society for people living with HIV/AIDS, said they receive piles of complaints every year from sufferers related to discrimination.

"The most unforgivable and frustrating is from health workers," he said. Even in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, some HIV positive patients have reportedly been expelled from the surgical room.

Qiu Renzhong, a bioethicist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told China Daily that if discrimination is not removed, the war against HIV/AIDS cannot be won.

The government has to pay more attention to the issue of discrimination and take forceful actions like improving the existing anti-HIV/AIDS discrimination law, training law enforcement workers and harshly punishing those found to have harmed sufferers' rights in terms of health care, employment, education and insurance, Qiu said.

Currently, the government relies mainly on free testing and medications for sufferers, and vaccine research, he said.

To help eliminate the discrimination, in recent years State leaders have visited and shaken hands with AIDS patients every Dec 1, World AIDS Day. The government has launched a great number of awareness raising projects across the nation.

"The efforts pay off," said the CDC's Xiao Yan, who is responsible for conducting the survey about HIV/AIDS discrimination. The survey has been conducted yearly since 2006.

"The findings of the latest survey are still not satisfactory," said "But we see improvement compared with last year," she said, adding the figures among the laymen and health workers polled last year were 59 percent and 34 percent respectively.

China now has 700,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, according to estimates from the Ministry of Health and the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS.

Notably, only 260,000 of the sufferers can be reached by health specialists for treatment and support, according to Qiu, a stark contrast with the US, where 75 percent of HIV positive people can be tracked.

"The lower rate in China is mainly because of widespread discrimination and the poor job done by hospitals in protecting patients' privacy, which turns sufferers away," he said.

Tags: HIV/AIDS, Chinese Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, discrimination


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