Mon, Jul 19, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Civic groups demand change in public AIDS policy

HUMAN RIGHTS Campaigners say dismissive government attitudes create a situation in which people are afraid to seek treatment because of the serious social consequences

By Caroline Hong  /  STAFF REPORTER

Various civic groups called for greater consideration for human rights from the government in its treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS, saying that although the government's health insurance policy for sufferers is commendable, there are many improvements still to be made.

"The government's attitude is that it is only responsible for the physical well-being of people who have been infected with HIV/AIDS. If you ask them about the rights and resources available to such people, they'll just tell you to talk to non-profit organizations," social worker Janet Ye (葉怡君) said.

The Gender/Sexuality Rights Association Taiwan, the Persons with HIV/AIDS Rights Advocacy Association of Taiwan and the Career Foundation held a workshop in Taipei yesterday morning to discuss the history of government HIV/AIDS policies, saying that dismissive government attitudes toward people infected with the disease have fostered an environment in which individuals are afraid to seek treatment or take tests to determine if they have been infected because of the serious social consequences.

Although the Department of Health provides free medical treatment to those infected with the virus, it is difficult for patients to protect their right to privacy, campaigner Ni Chia-Chen (倪家珍) said.

According to the AIDS Prevention and Control Act (愛滋防治條例), the government has the right to check up on infected individuals, often leading to family and friends learning about the individual's condition without his or her permission, Ni said.

Furthermore, punitive measures against those with HIV/AIDS are exceptionally heavy, with people who fail to inform their sexual partners of their condition facing seven years in jail.

The groups also said that the government's policy of forced, regular blood screening for high-risk populations such as those in the sex industry are discriminatory and unfair.

Aside from policy and enforcement problems, the groups also said that discriminatory comments by high-ranking and influential individuals, such as Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) and current Non-Partisan Solidarity Union chairperson Chang Po-ya (張博雅), have a negative influence on public attitudes about HIV/AIDS.

Lu gave rise to public outrage last year when she suggested that AIDS was God's way of punishing homosexuals.

During her tenure as minister of justice from 1990 to 1997, Chang said several times that HIV/AIDS victims should be classified into the "innocent" -- those who were infected through blood infusions -- and those who had been infected because of unsafe behavior.

The groups also criticized the government's "ABC policy" toward HIV/AIDS, which encourages individuals to abstain from sex, be faithful to one partner or use a condom if they do have sex.

They said this policy is unrealistic and over-simplistic, since the country's current disease situation is one that demands more than preventive measures.

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