Guangzhou education authorities may reverse a policy which bars HIV carriers and people with sexually- transmitted diseases from teaching - a first for a country which has traditionally had a tough approach towards workers sufferering from these diseases.
Mandatory HIV tests are to be phased out from the draft list of health qualifications for Guangdong’s teachers by September, state media reported on Tuesday.
This comes less than six months after a regulation was proposed, which would have essentially banned people with HIV, gonorrhoea, syphilis, genital warts or any of "three other sexually transmitted diseases" from teaching.
The January announcement led to a wave of anti-discrimination lawsuits brought by disqualified teachers and widespread condemnation from rights groups.
Nanjing-based anti-discrimination NGO Justice for All hailed the new decision as a “landmark breakthrough” and a sign that anti-discrimination campaigns and efforts were beginning to “bear fruit”.
“When I first heard the news I almost burst in tears because I was so happy…My hope is to see the same standards applied to the rest of the country,” said Cheng Yuan, the Nanjing-based NGO director, told the Yangcheng Evening News.
HIV carriers are often excluded from civil service jobs, including teaching and policing in many provinces of China. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis have also recently been banned from working as teachers.
“At the moment most of anti-discrimination employment laws are decided at provincial or local level, but ideally, there should be national regulations on this,” said Geoffery Crothall, a spokesman for Hong Kong-based labour rights NGO China Labour Bulletin.
“It will be up to Guangdong authorities to actually make sure that this new opening up to teachers with HIV is enforced…schools and educational institutions which continue to demand forced HIV tests should have to face sanctions.”
While anti-discrimination groups welcomed the announcement, some Guangdong parents were concerned that children could be at risk of infection.
“Those who do not have children will not understand how parents feel. It is simply impossible for a few not to be discriminated when it can potentially harm the interests of the wider public…I do not think most parents would approve of this,” said one user on microblog Sina Weibo.
“If the government can guarantee that all HIV-infected patients are not child molesters and paedophiles then yes this is appropriate thing to do. But can they?” another asked.
Close to 45 per cent of 330 internet users in an online poll voted against HIV carriers working as teachers in January. Most were worried that small children who were unaware of HIV prevention measures could be infected through open wounds.
According to the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, China had an estimated 780,000 people HIV-Aids sufferers at the end of 2011. The country set an ambitious goal in 2010 to slash HIV infection rates by 25 per cent by the year 2015.