It has been two decades since the very first case of HIV infection was reported in Taiwan in 1986. This year, the total number of people in Taiwan living with HIV/AIDS has reached an all-time high of 13,255.
Social discrimination and misunderstanding, however, remain as prevalent as ever. Over the past two decades, HIV/AIDS has challenged many of the ways we deal with communicable diseases, but that does not seem to have dispelled regressive attitudes and thinking.
In October, the Taipei District Court issued a ridiculous verdict ordering the Harmony Home Association, a care facility for HIV/AIDS sufferers, to move from its current site in a Taipei apartment complex because of public health concerns. This verdict underlines Taiwan's HIV/AIDS problems and the massive failure of two decades of HIV/AIDS education.
Public tolerance of those living with HIV/AIDS is in short supply, and authorities seem to be at a loss as to what to do.
To deal with this situation, medical schools should include HIV/AIDS care programs in their curricula and hospitals should incorporate such programs into training for medical personnel.
HIV/AIDS patients not only need treatment from infectious disease departments, but also other types of medical assistance to relieve pain or discomfort.
At present, most medical professionals are only willing to care for those who do not know that they have HIV/AIDS, not all infected patients. This kind of selective discrimination runs counter to professional medical ethics. In the future, on-the-job training should improve medical professionals' knowledge of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. This will reduce the effects of individual prejudice which puts a strain on the doctor-patient relationship.
Government health agencies should also empower other institutions that are involved in HIV/AIDS care and target resources more effectively.
Why do Taiwanese still have this fear of and bias against HIV/AIDS after 20 years? Clearly, the Department of Health should adopt a proactive approach rather than just providing information, nor should it tolerate repeated discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients.
To more effectively distribute its resources, the health department should evaluate HIV/AIDS awareness before and after promotional activities.
In addition, a commonly held but mistaken belief is that there is something called "high-risk groups." However, since HIV is transmitted between humans, there shouldn't be any such high-risk groups. "High-risk behavior" is more appropriate from the perspective of disease prevention.
It is not only important for HIV/AIDS patients to extend their life expectancy, they also need to return to their communities. If they are banished to the hospital system, medical institutions clearly cannot provide adequate resources for their care.
Unlike other statutory infections, the transmission mode of HIV/AIDS has been confirmed. In addition, both the health department and epidemiological studies have verified that there is no need to quarantine patients. Thus, the government should reconsider its decision to list HIV/AIDS as a statutory infectious disease.
Furthermore, the number of HIV/AIDS patients who are also drug addicts is on the rise. The Ministry of Justice must therefore not shirk its responsibility when it comes to the health of HIV/AIDS patients in prison or in detoxification programs. Since the current HIV/AIDS prevention program is organized by an inter-departmental work group, all government agencies should solve these issues together.
Yang Huei-chung is the Admin-istrative Manager of the Persons with HIV/AIDS Rights Advocacy Association of Taiwan.
Translated by Daniel Cheng
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