Hong Kong health authorities do not compel people to identify themselves when voluntarily arranging an HIV test, an approach widely endorsed by HIV/Aids experts as crucial to tackling the epidemic. This policy is designed to ensure that people will not be discouraged from taking the test out of fear of stigma and discrimination, or even for admitting their possible exposure to the virus. Testing is essential to early diagnosis and treatment to prevent progression to full-blown Aids, and to control and prevention of the disease.
It is disturbing, therefore, to learn that the people's congress of the Guangxi autonomous region is considering legislation to force real-name disclosure for testing and counselling at government centres - the more so that this policy has high-level support on the mainland. Nearly 31 years after the emergence of Aids, when a positive diagnosis could be a death warrant, this scarcely seems credible. Countless millions remain alive today thanks to enlightened policies of education, counselling and safe-sex practices that prevent infection, or advances in early drug treatment of HIV that delays the onset of Aids.
Yet the director of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Wang Yu, argues that anonymity puts people at greater risk and says the draft legislation could become national policy. He says other proactive measures can be implemented to combat stigma. Given that stigma and discrimination are major issues on the mainland, not to mention lax privacy safeguards, he needs to give more details. The legislation provides that spouses and partners must be notified of a positive test within 30 days, but many would be left exposed if possible carriers were reluctant to take the test. In any case, counselling of those who test positive includes their responsibility to partners. Forcing disclosure of identity might resonate with the views of moral conservatives disturbed by more relaxed attitudes towards sex, but it is doubtful it does anything to advance public health.