Mon, Dec 31, 2012 - Page 8 News List

[ LETTER ]

Call to reform HIV policy

It’s about to become 2013 and Taiwan still deports foreigners who are HIV-positive as stipulated by Article 18 of the HIV Infection Control and Patients 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). According to the Joint UN Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), only 20 countries, territories and areas continue to do so.

The Taiwanese government, usually eager to promote itself as a human rights-focused democracy, now lags another year behind China, which lifted travel bans on foreigners with HIV in 2010. The irony is biting.

Scientific studies have confirmed and reconfirmed how deportation of foreigners with HIV does not protect public health, as many UNAIDS reports show. Professor Chen Yi-ming (陳宜民) of the National Yang-Ming University has been quoted as saying: “How can deportation help drive down the infection rate? The link between these two is tenuous” (“HIV deportations reconsidered,” Nov. 9, 2004, page 2).

At best, this reveals the Taiwanese government’s lingering xenophobia and homophobia.

At worst, it breaks families apart and uproots the lives of otherwise productive residents.

Article 20 of the act outlines exceptions to the deportation policy for those “infected by their native spouses or infected through the process of receiving medical care in the country” and those who “have relatives within the second degree of kinship who have household registration in Taiwan.”

In other words, you can’t stay in Taiwan if you don’t have immediate family in the country, or if you can’t prove that your Taiwanese spouse infected you with the disease.

Moreover, given that same-sex marriage is not legal in Taiwan, a gay man cannot stay in the country with his partner, even if he can prove that his Taiwanese partner infected him.

If the government does not reform this archaic and discriminatory deportation policy next year, I fear that the HIV infection rates in Taiwan will continue to climb because the government is too stubborn to refocus its priorities away from surface-level solutions to address the heart of the issue: misinformation about HIV.

Only two months ago, in September, the Ministry of Education effectively forced an elementary-school teacher to take an HIV test to prove false an anonymous accusation. If government officials are so misinformed that they believe that an elementary-school teacher can infect his students just by sharing a classroom, or that deporting foreigners with HIV will reduce the infection rate in Taiwan, then how can we expect the people they govern to know the details of how to prevent the spread of the virus?

To effectively stop HIV, the government needs to implement policies that encourage residents to get tested and receive treatment, not ones that make them feel so afraid of the stigma or deportation that they avoid testing and seeking treatment.

Though I hope that next year will be the year that Taiwan catches up to China and the rest of the developed world by reforming its regulations on deporting foreigners with HIV, I am not optimistic. I tried to speak with the Centers for Disease Control about this issue and they declined to comment.

Allister Chang

Taipei

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