New guidelines step up the battle against HIV/Aids
scmp - Monday, February 13, 2006
Beijing yesterday published guidelines aimed at fighting Aids and the spread of HIV, in part by highlighting the responsibility of government at all levels to fight the disease.
Entitled "Statute on Aids Prevention", the guidelines are made up of 64 regulations that call on governments to raise public awareness. They were passed by the State Council on January 18 and will take effect on March 1.
Although aimed at stepping up the nation's anti HIV/Aids campaign, the guidelines were mainly a new compilation of existing policies, according to a drafter of the regulations and an Aids activist.
Li Dun , a leading HIV/Aids campaigner from Tsinghua University's Centre for the Study of Contemporary China, and a drafter in the early stages, said one important new provision was an obligation on general hospitals to treat HIV/Aids patients.
"This is good news, as general hospitals tended to reject HIV patients, while some would send patients to other hospitals if they found out they were infected," Professor Li said.
The guidelines, which were yesterday released on the websites of the State Council and state media such as Xinhua, also require the government to provide free HIV tests and counselling.
Disease-control authorities will also conduct HIV "surveillance" on those who cross China's borders, but the guidelines do not elaborate on what form this will take.
Governments at the county level or higher are now required to provide free anti-HIV/Aids medication, along with counselling for carriers.
Health agencies must also provide free counselling and tests for pregnant HIV carriers and new mothers to prevent mother-to-child infection, one of the four main sources of infection in China.
Hu Jia , a leading HIV/Aids activist, said the guidelines mainly wrapped up the government's previous anti-HIV measures, which had yielded little effect.
The offer of free medication for underprivileged HIV patients was first introduced in 2003.
"But a lot of patients died after taking the drugs. They were given the drugs without proper counselling with professional doctors, and the drugs were not suitable for them," Mr Hu said.
The guidelines also call for an end to discrimination against HIV patients.
"Any working unit and individual should not discriminate against HIV carriers, Aids patients or their families. The legal rights of marriage, job, studying and receiving medical treatment should be under the protection of law," the guidelines state.
But Mr Hu said this regulation was ambiguous as there was no law on the mainland that was tailored to protect the rights of HIV patients. "I just wonder which law it is referring to."
Mr Hu recently resigned under government pressure from Loving Source, a non-governmental organisation he co-founded in 2003 to help Aids victims' orphans.
Professor Li said one drawback of the regulation was the government had yet to come up with finely tuned co-ordination between the central and local governments in tackling the disease.
"There are over 20 government departments of various levels that deal with HIV/Aids. What is lacking is co-ordination between them," he said.
It remained to be seen whether the new guidelines would be effective.
"There are over 500 regulations and guidelines in China related to HIV. This new set of regulations has made some improvements, but it's too early to conclude that it's going to make a difference" Professor Li said.
He also noted that the public had not been consulted in the drafting process, which started in 1998. This made the guidelines less representative, he believed.
The government has cut its estimate of the number of mainland HIV carriers by 30 per cent, to 650,000.
Statistics from the Ministry of Health found an estimated 70,000 new HIV cases last year, and a further 75,000 people had developed Aids.
Beijing and the United Nations have warned that there is no sign of the epidemic abating and that the lower estimate was due only to better data collection and calculation models.
posted by cbs on Monday, February 13, 2006
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