HIV discrimination in China under fire

Photo above: An HIV-infected patient receives medical treatment at a clinic held for HIV-infected patients in Funan county of Fuyang, Anhui province, China.

BEIJING - China's top AIDS specialist has urged tougher punishments for hospitals caught denying treatment to HIV/AIDS patients.

"HIV discrimination at hospitals might cost lives and is groundless. So far, no medics have contracted the virus after performing medical treatment, including operations for people with HIV/AIDS," said Wu Zunyou, director of the National Center for AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases Control and Prevention, which is under the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wu made the comments to China Daily on Wednesday in response to a recent medical scandal involving HIV/AIDS discrimination at medical facilities.

A 25-year-old man, Xiaofeng (not his real name), was forced to hide his HIV status to receive lung cancer surgery after being rejected by two hospitals, The Beijing News reported on Wednesday.

China issued regulations on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in 2006. The regulations stipulate that if an HIV/AIDS patient has other illnesses, hospitals cannot refuse treating an illness on grounds that the patient is HIV-positive.

"However, the rule was not fully implemented, given that hospitals might cite other reasons to refuse treating them," Wu said, urging hospitals to practice self-discipline, and health authorities to punish violators.

On Nov 12, a hospital in Tianjin conducted lung-cancer surgery for Xiaofeng, but found later that he faked his medical records, hiding his HIV status.

Li Hu, head of Haihezhixing, a Tianjin-based non-governmental organisation that helps HIV carriers in local communities, posted a message about the incident on his micro blog on Nov 13.

"The man had no choice but to alter his medical record after the Cancer Institute and Hospital of Tianjin Medical University refused to treat him," Li said in the message. "Only in this way could he avoid the pre-surgery blood test and have the surgery done."

According to the discharge note Li provided to the media, Xiaofeng stayed in the hospital for more than two weeks. The note shows that he tested HIV-positive, and was "not fit to have surgery".

The man then went to Beijing's Ditan Hospital, a facility that specializes in treating infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

Not the first of its kind

Not the first of its kind

However, Ditan Hospital doesn't have a thoracic department, and thus couldn't perform surgery on the man, Li said.

"I got to know Xiaofeng on Nov 6, when he failed to seek surgery in the two hospitals," he said. "Another HIV carrier called me and told me his story."

Li said he knew Xiaofeng decided to fake the medical record he got from the cancer hospital and submit it to the third hospital. "Our strategy was to have the surgery done first, and tell medical workers that he is HIV-positive as soon as the surgery was finished."

Li declined to disclose the name of the hospital where Xiaofeng underwent surgery, but said the head of the hospital was "furious" when Xiaofeng's father told the hospital that Xiaofeng was HIV-positive.

Xue Lei, an HIV carrier and also a volunteer at Aizhifangzhou, an HIV-carrier rights advocacy group in Beijing, said the incident is by no means the first of its kind.

"We have seen many cases where hospitals refused surgery for HIV carriers. The root cause is that they are afraid that they might be infected with the virus," he said.

"I was severely injured in a car accident in 2010 and needed urgent surgery. When the blood test result came out after the surgery, the hospital doing the surgery told me that I must go to other hospitals for further treatment, such as hospitals assigned with the task to treat HIV/AIDS. It kind of forced me out after I stayed for seven days, while I needed at least a month to recover.

"Despite regulations, there is no punishment for hospitals when such incidents occur," Xue said.