Nation

Public supports HIV entry ban, survey finds

By Shan Juan (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-04-01 07:46
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BEIJING - As China appears to be easing a ban on HIV-positive foreigners entering the country - a policy that experts denounce as obsolete and discriminatory - a China Daily survey has suggested the public thinks otherwise.

Nearly 84 percent of respondents opposed lifting the ban, which has been in place for more than 20 years, a joint online survey by China Daily and sohu.com, has found.

More than 4,000 netizens answered the online poll.

Despite the huge amount of knowledge gained among people about how HIV is transmitted, nearly 75 percent of those who said "no" cited the possibility that infected foreigners would further spread the incurable disease during their stay in China and thus worsen the situation here.

Professor Jing Jun of Tsinghua University snubbed the survey result, saying that "public opinion is not necessarily correct."

Some 20 years ago, many in China even suggested HIV/AIDS sufferers be isolated and confined in certain designated areas, according to Jing, a veteran sociologist on AIDS-related issues.

China, home to an HIV-positive population of 740,000, is among 67 countries that deny entry or residence permits to sufferers because of their HIV status.

Huang Jiefu, vice-health minister, said in November that the Ministry of Health was working with legislative departments to amend the law barring HIV carriers from entering the country.

"More advocacy is needed for the law's revision," Jing said.

Within the country, a law on HIV/AIDS is in place to help protect sufferers' rights to free treatment and drugs, employment, and education.

"The entry ban on foreigners runs contrary to the spirit of the law to protect sufferers from HIV-related discrimination and stigma," said He Xiong, director of the Beijing center for disease control.

Also, "the overwhelming opposition stems from ignorance, " he said.

Earlier this month, China denied Australian writer Robert Dessaix a visa merely because of his HIV status, reports said.

"I think foreigners are more open and casual about sex so it's right for our government to keep the ban in place to protect public health in the nation," said 32-year-old Wang Liangfeng, a Beijing-based office clerk.

"That's totally wrong," said He Xiong. "The ban doesn't help ease the situation here at all," he noted.

Given that China now has HIV/AIDS cases in all provinces and the disease is spreading domestically, though it is under control, why bother to deny the entry of HIV-positive foreigners, he explained.

"As long as each of us takes good care of our own behavior, the virus won't bother you," He suggested.

But foreign sufferers should not be provided free treatment like Chinese citizens given the nation's economic situation, he said.

In fact, authorities carrying out the entry ban have reconsidered the situation and eased the ban during big international events like the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, he said.

Likewise, for the Shanghai Expo, which opens on May 1 and expects to see 4 million overseas visitors, the government will likely grant a special waiver allowing sufferers to enter the country for the event.

(China Daily 04/01/2010 page2)