HK health officials offer AIDS test advice

THE Department of Health has submitted proposals to minimise inconvenience caused by compulsory random AIDS tests on frequent travellers to the mainland.

Director of Health Dr Lee Shiu-hung said: ''The Department of Health has established a channel of communication with the Ministry of Health in Beijing and the Public Health Bureau in Guangdong.'' Dr Lee declined to disclose what solutions were being considered but stressed that they should be acceptable to both governments.

Concern has been expressed after reports that travellers had been stopped at the border by Chinese officials to undergo the tests. Questions were raised on the accuracy of the tests, which give an immediate result.

Dr Lee said the Hongkong Government had no plan to issue certificates to people free of the HIV virus.

Local AIDS groups said the Government should urge China to abolish the tests.

An executive of AIDS Concern, Sister Maureen McGinley, said it was time for the two governments to map out strategies for fighting AIDS because, ''the two [places] will be one [country] and the problem will still exist''.

Meanwhile, the Travel Industry Council of Hongkong has written to the Beijing and Guangzhou governments appealing for an end to the tests.

It is believed that China Travel Services in Hongkong has done the same.

The council believes the tests are slowing the growth of tourism in China.

A director of the council, Mr Tam Kai-on, said that since testing began in October, short trips had been on the decline.

''It's not just those who go into China 12 times in 12 months who get tested,'' Mr Tam said. We've had at least one half of a tour group tested.

The tour guide was only on her second visit.''