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New Henan health checks prove controversial
By Wu Chong (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-02-26 01:57

When compulsory HIV/AIDS and venereal disease testing became a must for all public entertainment employees in Henan Province four days ago, officials were not banking on the public debate which followed.

College students listens to a HIV/AIDS-prevention lecture in Kaifeng, Henan Province in December, 2004. [newsphoto]
Last Sunday, Henan authorities announced that anyone who wanted to work in the public entertainment and service industry such as beauty parlours, massage centres and discos must undergo HIV/AIDS and venereal disease tests and study related issues before taking up their posts.

Also, admission and registration systems have been set up, which require all employees in the industry to have health certificates and relevant identification.

But contrary voices have been raised in response to the new policy, saying it tacitly consents to prostitution, which is closely linked with the industry as far as most Chinese are concerned, according to the Zhengzhou Evening News.

They believe the policy implies a prostitute can legally offer sex if she receives the tests and registers with the authorities.

And the newspaper quoted Zhou, a bathing centre manager in Zhengzhou, as saying: "This may affect the image of our staff."

There is another worry about the policy, that is the admission system will discriminate against HIV carriers or AIDS patients who have decent jobs in the entertainment industry.

A hairdresser in Zhengzhou said the policy is discrimination, since it implies all employees in the profession are possible HIV carriers.

But Ma Jianzhong, director of the Henan Health Bureau, told China Daily it is necessary and important to conduct disease control and supervisory work among high-risk people.

"A responsible government should give priority to people's health," he said.

Ma added the public security department will take action if any employee in the industry is found to be engaging in illegal activities.

Despite the opposition, there is a large number of supporters nationwide praising the policy as practical.

Wang Yancheng, director of the Gansu Health Bureau, agreed with Ma that the most important thing is to prevent and control the spread of AIDS.

"We cannot afford a decade-long debate before taking action," he said.

But Wang pointed out that Henan authorities should step up efforts to strengthen related education to increase acceptance of the plan.

Professor Jing Jun from Tsinghua University said the policy marks a change in the government's policy of controlling AIDS, from voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) to recommended counselling and testing.

"Only a handful of people take VCT in China, but the disease is spreading in the country at an astonishing speed," Jing said.

China reported 840,000 HIV carriers in 2003, but only about 90,000 of them were officially registered.

"It is necessary to use some compulsory means to increase HIV/AIDS testing among the public, especially among those who are involved in high-risk industries," he said.

Jing added the government should take into consideration some follow-up measures including consultation and patient privacy.

He said other provinces should be prudent if thinking about following suit as "Henan has a more solid foundation as more than 90 per cent of local people have a basic knowledge of AIDS."

(China Daily 02/26/2005 page1)

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