Beijing we have a problem. China medical personal seem to not be able to treat HIV/AIDS victims, mostly due to lack of an understanding of the epidemic and fear of transmission according to a report released by the United Nations' International Labor Organization (ILO).
HIV/AIDS became a major problem for China in the 1990s when hundreds of thousands of impoverished farmers in rural Henan province became infected through botched blood-selling schemes, but the virus is now primarily spread in the country via sexual contact.
Based on interviews with 103 people living with HIV and 23 healthcare workers, the ILO and China's National Center for STD and AIDS Prevention and Control found that people have been refused medical care and have been discriminated against by healthcare workers.
There was a news conference to announce the report this week and the live reports were disturbing.
One HIV-positive man explained:
"The doctor said at our hospital, many patients need surgery, and if other patients get infected, it will be a very bad thing. At the second hospital the doctor told me: 'I sympathize with your suffering but because of your status, I dare not operate on you.' I've visited many other hospitals and encountered similar denials and excuses such as a lack of equipment."
The world's most populous nation, with a total 1.34 billion people, had 740,000 people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, with 105,000 AIDS patients, in 2009, according to state news agency Xinhua, citing United Nations estimates.
Culture plays as a factor where taboos surrounding sex remain strong and discussion of the topic is largely limited, persistent discrimination by healthcare workers could mean that many sufferers are likely to avoid medical treatment.
China's first AIDS case was reported in a traveler from abroad who subsequently died in Beijing in 1985. In the following five years a small number of cases were reported among foreigners and Chinese, who were infected overseas or by imported blood products.
During the early stages of the AIDS epidemic the Health Ministry concentrated its prevention efforts on the risk of infection from abroad. In 1987 it threatened to bar all foreign students from classes if they failed to comply with the mandatory AIDS screening program.
By late 1994 it was clear the reported AIDS cases amongst IDUs in Yunnan had signaled the beginning of an epidemic amongst drug users. National figures for HIV infection were growing quickly and in 1996 the Minister of Health, Chen Min-Zhang, put the number of infections at between 50,000 and 100,000, and new cases were being reported in more regions. By 1998, HIV infections had been reported in all 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, with drug users accounting for 60-70% of reported infections.
There was a notable shift in government response to the epidemic in the new millennium. On World AIDS Day 2001, stories and testimonials of those infected with HIV and a television drama about AIDS reflected a far greater willingness to discuss the emerging epidemic.
In 2003, the Health Minister's change in attitude was evident. It is widely felt that the 2003 SARS epidemic prompted the change as it demonstrated to the government the impact public health could have on social and economic stability. He described the fight against AIDS as a "long-term war" and, as well as showing a new willingness to accept overseas assistance, requested that China's AIDS budget of US$12.5 million be doubled.
On World AIDS Day 2003, Wen Jiabao became the first Chinese premier to shake hands with an HIV-positive person.
Sources: The British Medical Journal and The International Labour Organization
Written by Sy Kraft