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(Hong Kong) -- Widespread discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS is fueling the spread of the epidemic in China, Human Rights Watch charged in a new report released today. en Français

Many people living with HIV/AIDS have no access to health care because hospitals refuse to treat them. Human Rights Watch found that at one hospital, the door to the AIDS clinic was actually padlocked.

National laws discriminate against people with HIV/AIDS, and some local laws ban them from using swimming pools or working in food service. The police send drug users to detoxification centers, where they are forced to labor without pay to make trinkets for tourists. Instead of receiving help for their problem, they are driven underground, making it harder for the government to combat the AIDS virus.

The 94-page report, "Locked Doors: The human rights of people living with HIV/AIDS in China", is based on more than 30 interviews with people with HIV/AIDS, police officers, drug users, and AIDS outreach workers in Beijing, Hong Kong, and Yunnan province.

"Discrimination is forcing many people to live as outcasts, and the Chinese government tolerates it instead of combatting it," said Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division. "That is sure to make the AIDS crisis worse."

The Human Rights Watch report documents:

  • The spread of HIV through unsafe state-run blood collection centers in seven provinces, the cover-up of the epidemic by local officials, and the state's failure to provide treatment or hold officials accountable;
  • Restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, association and the right to information of those living with HIV/AIDS and those seeking to help them;
  • Discrimination based on HIV status by government hospitals and government employees;
  • Mandatory HIV testing in state facilities and violations of patient confidentiality; and
  • Lack of access to treatment and other issues in China's underfunded and problem-ridden health care system.

In Yunnan province, Human Rights Watch researchers visited Southeast Asia's largest forced detoxification center, where drug users live in crowded, unclean cells without adequate food or clean water. The centers test drug users for HIV without their knowledge, do not inform those who test positive, and do not offer treatment for HIV/AIDS

Chinese government documents obtained by Human Rights Watch show HIV prevalence rates among blood donors ranging from four to forty percent across seven provinces, provinces that have a combined total population of 420 million. This suggests that the number of persons with HIV is much higher than the one million cases that Beijing officially acknowledges.

Beijing has recently issued some positive policy statements about HIV/AIDS, asserting the importance of non-discrimination in national action plans. Some local legislatures, such as in Suzhou city, have passed regulations to protect the rights of people with HIV/AIDS. Small-scale pilot AIDS education and prevention projects could be expanded and successful laws and practices in Hong Kong could be studied on the mainland. But the Human Rights Watch report emphasizes that the relatively small number of projects fails to address the scope of the escalating AIDS crisis.

"SARS showed the importance of national leadership and a strong public health system in fighting an epidemic," said Adams. "It is time for Beijing to show the same resolve in helping people with HIV/AIDS."

The Chinese government continues to abet the local cover-up of one of the world's greatest HIV/AIDS scandals, the Human Rights Watch report shows. Chinese citizens in seven central provinces contracted HIV through state-run blood collection centers, but few have received treatment or compensation, and not a single official has been prosecuted to date.

"It is time for China to confront the blood collection scandal," Adams said. "Beijing should authorize a full and impartial investigation into the involvement of local authorities in the blood scandal, and hold those responsible accountable. If China can't do this, it should ask the United Nations or another independent organization to establish the facts."

China should immediately start providing compensation and treatment to anyone who directly or indirectly contracted HIV/AIDS as a result of the unprecedented blood collection scandal, Adams said.

Accounts from Locked Doors: The human rights of people living with HIV/AIDS in China:

Someone from the Center for Disease Control will call the work unit and say "that person has AIDS"-and then the person gets fired.
Cao, international NGO staff person

The government should help us and give us space, space in the cities and space in the countryside. They should not discriminate against us. But this is easy to say and hard to do. In the government, there are many people who see us as garbage, as something they have to get rid of to prevent their own loss of face.
Kong, drug user and person living with HIV/AIDS

I call up the hospitals first and tell them straight out that I'm positive. They won't treat me ... When I get sick later, I might just leave. I'll go somewhere far away, a nice place, and wait to die.
Ji, person living with HIV/AIDS

People who are HIV-positive need emotional support. Many people, when they find out they are HIV positive, suffer very much and are very sad. They have many needs-psychological, medical, and legal-but many people just stay at home for years and years.
Zhang, AIDS activist

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