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More care promised for AIDS patients

By Shan Juan and Wang Qingyun | China Daily | Updated: 2012-11-23 13:19

Vice-premier's comments spur action after treatment denied

Hospitals designated to treat HIV/AIDS will be upgraded to protect the rights of patients and ensure better healthcare services, Minister of Health Chen Zhu pledged on Thursday.

He was speaking at a ceremony to mark the end of the China-Australia Health and HIV/AIDS Facility, a joint project, and after Vice-Premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday called for proper medical treatment for people who have HIV or AIDS.

Li contacted the ministry after learning of a recent case in which a 25-year-old HIV carrier - identified as Xiaofeng - was denied cancer treatment in Tianjin due to his condition, and only secured treatment at another facility after hiding his status.

"The Health Ministry will improve services at designated hospitals to better help people with HIV/AIDS beyond just treating them," Chen told China Daily. "We'll also improve working conditions for medical workers."

Thanks to anti-retroviral treatment, patients can now live much longer and may need treatment for other medical conditions, he said. Because their immune system may be weakened, patients with HIV/AIDS could be susceptible to other illnesses.

Each city on the mainland has at least one designated hospital to carry out anti-retroviral and HIV/AIDS related treatment, said Wu Zunyou, director of the National Center for AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases Control and Prevention.

Zhao Yan, deputy director of the center's AIDS treatment and care division, said: "However, many of them, particularly those specializing in infectious diseases, are not competent enough to treat other diseases like cancer or eye conditions."

Meng Lin, a member of the China Alliance of People Living with HIV/AIDS, said: "It's just makeshift measures to meet other medical demands at designated hospitals".

Meng, an AIDS patient in Beijing, suffered kidney problems as a side effect of anti-retroviral drugs in August.

"I first went to a designated hospital specializing in treating infections, but they couldn't treat kidney disease at all," he said. "I just want to go to the right hospital, where my disease can be treated properly."

He added that he was rejected numerous times while seeking medical services at non-designated hospitals. "I was denied even in non-surgery cases," he said.

Meng admitted that he used to hide his status from doctors to get treatment. "I have no way out. Lie or die."

China issued a regulation on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in 2006. It stipulates that no hospital can deny treatment on grounds of a patient being HIV-positive.

So far, no hospital has ever been penalized by health authorities for such a violation, according to Meng. "We just hope the laws and regulations are well enforced," he added.

Health Minister Chen called for more kindness and less discrimination.

Also, Wu Zunyou urged tougher punishment for medical institutions, which turned their back on sufferers.

In another development, the health bureau in Tianjin announced Thursday that it is holding staff workers in the Cancer Institute and Hospital of Tianjin Medical University accountable for refusing to conduct lung cancer surgery on Xiaofeng.

The bureau also investigated the hospital that did the surgery on Xiaofeng to make sure that all procedures, including sterilization and disposal, were properly followed.

The bureau said such incidents must not happen again, and all hospitals in the city should ensure HIV carriers get treatment. Also, it requires HIV carriers to fully disclose their medical condition to doctors.

China has 780,000 people living with HIV/AIDS on the mainland, according to official estimates.

Contact the writers at shanjuan@chinadaily.com.cn and wangqingyun@chinadaily.com.cn