Big drop of people taking HIV tests

PHOTO: Big drop of people taking HIV tests

BEIJING - Since the policy of anonymity was ended, the number of people taking an HIV test in the capital has fallen dramatically, making detection and service delivery increasingly difficult.

The new system, which officials claim is aimed at improving services for people who test positive, was introduced at the city's 40 or so government-run clinics about a month ago and requires people to present their ID if they take an HIV test.

Since then, the number of people taking tests has dropped significantly because people do not want their identities exposed if they test positive, said Xiao Dong, leader of a civic organization tackling the spread of HIV and AIDS among homosexual men, the group most at risk.

"This could undermine long-term efforts to improve intervention and will increase the chances of undetected sufferers spreading the virus," he said.

Before visitors were required to present their identity cards, government-run clinics in Beijing received, on average, about a dozen people a day. Now it is as few as three.

Wu Zunyou, director of the National Center for AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases Control and Prevention, also conceded that the initiative will not help with detection and service delivery.

Guy Taylor, program associate for advocacy and information management for UNAIDS, a United Nations program combating HIV/AIDS, said his organization believes HIV testing should always be confidential, accompanied by counseling and conducted only with informed consent.

"Where testing requires real-name registration, it is possible that fears around perceived risks of breaches of confidentiality may lead to reduced demand for testing services," he said.

Xiao's organization has been working with the gay community to boost their awareness and encourage them to visit clinics for tests.

"Now it's hard to persuade them to go to the clinic for a test and many just call on the phone to get counseling. But counseling is much more effective when conducted face to face," he added.

Qu, who did not want his full name to be released, went for HIV tests twice last year, but from now on, because of real-name registration, he will buy testing kits on the Internet.

"Given that HIV and AIDS-related discrimination is rife, I have to protect myself from potential exposure. Otherwise I'll face great difficulty living here," he said.

China began to provide free screening services run by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and its branches nationwide in 2003.

To date, roughly 10 per cent of all cities require registration at the government clinics.

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