Privacy becomes core healthcare issue

Updated: 2012-03-15 07:44

By Shi Yingying (China Daily)

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Keeping a secret

In remote rural areas, keeping anything confidential is a challenge, even something as personal as an HIV infection.

Du Guanghui tested positive for the virus in 2002 after being infected at a blood plasma collection point in his native Xinyang village, Henan.

"The local CDC confirmed the diagnosis, but they required another (higher level) clinic to confirm my identity by sending someone to my home," said the 43-year-old. "These people came into my neighborhood and asked for me. That was when my neighbors worked it out.

"Villagers believe doctors only come out when someone has a communicable disease and once one person in your community knows you've got AIDS, everybody knows."

Protecting people's privacy in large cities such as Beijing and Shanghai is not much easier, especially when it comes to applying for government benefits.

To qualify for a basic living allowance, residents must submit personal data to their local civil affairs bureau. However, Beijing lawyer Liu Yige said that in 2010 he handled the case of a man whose information including his HIV diagnosis was posted on a neighborhood bulletin board.

"It was a devastating blow for him," he said. "He's been changing his phone number ever since. Even we've lost contact with him."

Although the AIDS Prevention Act of 2009 states that medical centers should keep all information related to HIV confidential, Liu said there are no specific penalties for people who leak data.

Guy Taylor, program associate on advocacy and information management for UNAIDS, added that countries such as the United States and Britain have established comprehensive legal systems that protect the privacy of people who receive HIV tests.

"It's very important to make sure the staff are trained property so that they can offer quality counseling before and after the test," Taylor added.