The Truth of China’s Response to HIV/AIDS

Jim Amon, director of health and human rights at Human Rights Watch, writes on the international community’s uncritical praise of China’s response to its epidemic. From the Los Angeles Times:

This tension was highlighted in report released by UNAIDS last year that found that two-thirds of HIV-infected people in China have not sought treatment because of fear, ignorance and discrimination. UNAIDS’ director, Michel Sidibe, said then that China needed to “break the conspiracy of silence” surrounding HIV/AIDS.

But clearly, it is not just the Chinese government that needs to break the conspiracy of silence; it is also the international donor community. It would be wise to listen to what inmates at any of the approximately 700 compulsory drug detention centers in China have to say.

Human Rights Watch’s research has found that the roughly 500,000 people at these centers are routinely beaten, forced to work for up to 18 hours a day without pay, have no access to drug dependency treatment and are denied even basic medical care. Under China’s 2008 anti-drug law, drug users, even first-time users, are locked up for three to six years, without trial, in “treatment” centers that have a relapse rate of as high as 90%. Our research found that some detention center guards provided drugs to “patients”; and one guard admitted using the mandatory HIV test results to determine which female drug users to have sex with.

The Global Fund, as part of its more than $1 billion in HIV funding to the Chinese government, supports a variety of programs in these centers, including “provider-initiated” HIV testing and training of detention center staff members. The United States supports similar programs in China and Vietnam, without any, as one senior U.S. official admitted, “rules of engagement.” United Nations agencies, such as UNICEF and UNODC, have also funded programs in detention centers in the region.


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