The Ministry of Health will soon relax a 14 year old rule that bars foreigners with HIV/AIDS from entering China, although a date has not yet been set, reports the Associated Press. Needless to say, this is of MAJOR significance. As everyone who is employed in China on a work visa (and we’re referring to the ‘Z’ visa, not the ‘F’) will know, if you are found to have the HIV during your health check, you will be asked to leave the country.
In a story written by your correspondent on the HIV/AIDS situation in China elsewhere (see here and here), we wrote that not too long after the first case of AIDS was reported in China, Xinhua announced a ban on all blood imports and proposals were made to ban homosexuality. Compare for yourself two different versions of the chronology of the fight against AIDS in China here and here and see for yourself how the ban on blood imports and homosexuality was edited out in the Xinhua version.
The bans unfortunately served to entrench the idea in the minds of average Chinese people that AIDS is first of all a foreign disease, and secondly, a gay disease. This perception proved to be a great obstacle in AIDS education programmes subsequently. In the early days though, the disease was spread mainly through the use of shared needles by drug abusers in the Yunnan province and not through casual sex. Add to that the pre-SARS mindset that all epidemic-related news should be kept hush-hush and you will see why the AIDS epidemic soon spiralled out of control.
We are not sure if the new law will allow HIV+ foreigners to work in China on a ‘Z’ visa, but allowing them to visit China is a big step in the right direction. All your HIV+ foreign experts who previously found themselves banned from coming to China to attend conferences on how to tackle the disease can finally make their way here.
Photo of an AIDS awareness poster from Compton & Wright