On Thursday last week, the Chinese-language China Times reported that an elementary school in Taipei had received an anonymous letter alleging that a teacher at the school was infected with HIV. The school reported the allegations to the city’s Department of Education and asked the teacher to take a screening test. The teacher cooperated and took a test at a hospital to prove that he was not infected. Meanwhile, the parents’ association isolate the teacher to prevent their children from being accidentally infected.
The HIV Infection Control and Patient Rights Protection Act (人類免疫缺乏病毒傳染防治及感染者權益保障條例) guarantees that the dignity and privacy, and the right to school or work, of people with HIV, yet for some reason this anonymous letter triggered collective panic, with both the school and parents requesting that the teacher take a test and stay away from his students.
The incident is a testament to the failure of the education system when it comes to teaching people about HIV transmission and the rights of virus carriers. It also exposes the hypocrisy of the government, schools and parents in terms of respect for and tolerance of people with HIV.
One cannot help but wonder if this means that, from now on, anyone who faces allegations of being HIV-positive will be forced to take an HIV test. Such speculation does not only show ignorance about HIV transmission, but it is also a violation of the law and an infringement on a person’s rights. This ignorance means that the right to work of people with HIV is no longer protected.
The so-called “letter of accusation” insinuates that being infected with HIV is a sin or crime and that people with HIV are potential criminals. It also implies that such “criminals” ought to be exposed publicly to prevent them from harming the public.
The request for the teacher to take a test to “prove his innocence” infers that he is guilty until a negative test result proves otherwise — and if the test result had been positive, then he is filthy and deserves to be excluded from society. The ethical stigmatization of people with HIV/AIDS is a significant assault on their right to work in society.
Demanding that a teacher who allegedly has HIV stay away from his students or disappear from the workplace would not make HIV/AIDS disappear. Isolating patients would not reduce the public’s fear of the disease either. What is worse is this sort of mentality only serves to make society even more helpless in facing and dealing with HIV/AIDS, leaving people with no other option but to act as the school and parents did in this case, reacting defensively out of fear and terror.
HIV/AIDS human rights groups repeatedly appeal to the public to end stigmatization, discrimination and exclusion for a reason — they are of no help to prevention work. Taiwan will only be able to face the problem of HIV/AIDS when we all have a better understanding of HIV/AIDS.
Jiang Ho-ching is a research assistant in the Department of Sociology at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Eddy Chang