Privacy becomes core healthcare issue

Updated: 2012-03-15 07:44

By Shi Yingying (China Daily)

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Request for ID prior to blood tests causes concern over data protection, reports Shi Yingying.

Meng Fei was confirmed HIV-positive in August, but decided to hold off telling his parents for fear of upsetting them. This month, that choice was taken out of his hands by the local center for disease control and prevention.

Privacy becomes core healthcare issue

Doctors check a blood sample for the HIV virus at a laboratory managed by the Foshan Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Guangdong province. Debate is raging nationwide due to a policy proposed by officials in Guangxi that will mean anyone who receives voluntary HIV screening will have to show their ID card first. [Provided to China Daily]

"My father received a phone call on March 1 by someone asking for my contact information. When he asked who it was, they told him and then revealed that I'd contracted HIV," said the 20-year-old, who spoke on condition of using an alias.

Meng was diagnosed after taking a blood test in Kunming, capital of Yunnan province, where he has worked as a trader for about a year. His family still lives in his native Fujian province.

"I didn't give anyone permission to tell my parents," he said. "None of my family knew I'm gay, nor did they have any clue I'm HIV-positive. I only gave my real name before the test (in Kunming) because they promised details about my condition would be kept confidential."

Concerns over the leaking of private health information is widespread in China so much so that when Xinhua News Agency reported in January that people in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region will be required to provide ID cards prior to HIV screening, there was public outcry.

Authorities in Guangxi later said the request will not be compulsory. However, after the news, more than 90 percent of 7,728 Chinese web users polled by the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition said they would refuse preliminary screening if they were required by law to give their real names.

More than 94 percent also disagreed with an article in the draft regulation that would allow medical centers to inform the sexual partners of patients about a positive HIV diagnosis after 30 days.

"I don't know about any other community, but adopting a real-name policy for voluntary (HIV) screening will definitely scare off (male homosexuals), who are considered a high-risk group," said Wang Jinye, 28, a master's student who volunteers at a gay rights NGO in Kunming.

"Generally speaking, there are two stages of a HIV test: Preliminary screening and confirmation," he said. "The majority of us (gay men) are against a real-name policy for preliminary screening, while about half would agree to giving out personal details if they are confirmed HIV-positive. Our priority leans toward privacy more than safety before confirmation, but it's the other way around after.

"You have to understand that we're facing double exposure: Being gay and possibly a carrier of HIV," Wang added.

Sound bites

"More than 50 percent of people infected with HIV in China in the last three to five years were drug users. However, unprotected sex has surpassed drug use as a method of transmission, accounting for more than 70 percent of infections. Of these patients, more than 70 percent are homosexual."

Shang Hong, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Sexually Transmitted Disease and AIDS Prevention and Control and CPPCC member

"How to manage prison inmates who are HIV-positive is a serious challenge, as we need to guarantee the safety of both the guard and other inmates. We don't have separate sections for those with and without HIV and AIDS, and other prisoners are reluctant to share with them."

Xu Xiaohuan, CPPCC member

"Phenomena we have observed in the process of monitoring HIV and AIDS in recent years is the increase in the number of carriers older than 60, as well as the spread of the virus among youngsters."

Shao Yiming, AIDS expert for the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and CPPCC member

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