UNAIDS' China office has expressed concern with a draft regulation from the Ministry of Commerce that would ask bathhouses to ban people with HIV.
The draft regulation on managing bathhouses, on which public opinion is being sought until Nov 11, stipulates that bathhouses, including those offering spa baths and foot care, should put up signs saying that people with HIV/AIDS must not enter.
Bathhouses should also warn those with sexually transmitted diseases and infectious skin diseases to stay away, according to the draft.
"We are concerned about the regulation," said Guy Taylor, advocacy and information officer of the China office of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS.
"It's important to highlight that HIV can only be transmitted in three ways: through sexual contact, through blood-borne transmission and through mother-to-child transmission. There is no risk of transmission of HIV through casual contact in bathhouses or similar facilities.
"Addressing HIV-related stigma and discrimination is a critical component of the response to HIV, and this is recognised by the Chinese government's policies," he said.
The Regulations on AIDS Prevention and Treatment, issued in 2006, stipulate that people should not be discriminated against because they are HIV-positive. UNAIDS therefore recommends that restrictions preventing people with HIV from accessing bathing facilities and other services should be removed, he said.
The Ministry of Commerce said it has noted public opinion on the regulations, and is reviewing it.
Xiao Dong, head of China Rainbow Health Organisation, which focuses on advocating knowledge for preventing and treating HIV/AIDS, said the ban is a step backward.
"The regulation issued by the Ministry of Commerce contradicts the Regulations on AIDS Prevention and Treatment, so it is not valid," he said.