BEIJING, Nov 23 – Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang recently requested that medical practitioners offer equal treatment to people with HIV/AIDS and protect themselves in the course of treatment.
Li asked the Ministry of Health (MOH) to guarantee the right to medical treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS, according to the ministry’s official website.
Li was quoted by the website as telling MOH that people with HIV/AIDS should not be discriminated against, and that work should be done to guarantee the safety of doctors and nurses treating HIV-positive patients.
The website said Li made a phone call after learning that a HIV-positive lung cancer patient was denied treatment and ended up falsifying his medical records in order to obtain surgery.
The 25-year-old patient, with a pseudonym of Xiaofeng who lives in Tianjin, was denied by two hospitals after his HIV-positive status was detected. He eventually got the surgery after concealing his condition.
The Tianjin Municipal Health Bureau on Thursday confirmed that the Tianjin Tumour Hospital had rejected lung cancer surgery for an HIV-positive patient.
The bureau said to penalize responsible people based on the Regulations on the Prevention and Treatment of HIV/AIDS (RPTH).
Xiaofeng, who is resting at home after the surgery, said to protect the rights of HIV/AIDS patients, he will sue the doctors and hospitals that denied him the surgery.
Although the RPTH stipulates that HIV-positive patients cannot be denied medical services or treatment, people with HIV/AIDS often face discrimination when they go to hospital.
Lu Hongzhou, a member of the disease prevention and control expertise committee under MOH, said, “The society should work to eliminate people’s, especially medical practitioners’, discrimination against and fear of HIV carriers,” Lu said.
Despite the national regulations and relevant training, they need time to eliminate the psychological obstacle. “It takes more than professional ethics to solve it,” Lu said.
According to a 2011 report jointly released by the China Alliance of People Living with HIV/AIDS (CAP+) and the International Labor Organization, apart from fear, hospitals’ excessive and unnecessary HIV tests are another reason and many HIV/AIDS patients get turned away by hospitals.
Meng Lin, coordinator with the CAP+, said in many other countries, whether a person is an HIV carrier or not is a privacy, and medical services should conduct such tests on a voluntary basis.
“Doctors will assume that every patient is potentially infectious and protect themselves based on universal precautions,” Meng said.
In comparison, most hospitals in China require patients to receive an HIV test before surgery so doctors can react in a timely and appropriate manner in case of an emergency during surgery. Therefore, if a patient is confirmed an HIV carrier, the safety of medical practitioners often outweighs patients’ rights to receive surgery.
Some hospitals are specifically open to people living with HIV/AIDS, which has also become an excuse for other hospitals to turn away HIV-positive patients, experts said.
In China, there is no law guaranteeing compensation to medical practitioners infected with HIV in the course of treating such carriers, aggravating the problems HIV/AIDS patients face in seeking medical treatment.
While many people criticize Xiaofeng for putting doctors at risk by concealing his HIV-positive status before the surgery, Li Hu, who released Xiaofeng’s story at the Internet, expressed his understanding, as he is also HIV-positive.
“He did it only because he wants to live,” said Li, a volunteer with a non-governmental organization on HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention in Tianjin.
He advocated legislative efforts to stipulate penalty clauses for hospitals that reject or discriminate against HIV/AIDS patients.
“Under a sound mechanism, people with AIDS might not conceal anything from doctors,” he said.