Certificate-holders may avoid AIDS tests

FREQUENT travellers to China could attempt to circumvent on-the-spot AIDS tests at the border by obtaining certificates in the territory that they were free from the virus, the Hongkong Medical Association said yesterday.

Association vice-president Dr Lee Kin-hung said this was the only way to minimise the inconvenience caused by the controversial tests.

However, he was not sure if the certificates, issued by local doctors or laboratories, would be recognised by the mainland health authorities.

It was reported this week that Guangdong would expand its AIDS tests on foreigners beyond Guangzhou to other points of entry.

Dr Lee said: ''The Hongkong Medical Association is of the same opinion as the World Health Organisation and the Department of Health that the result of a one-off test is not reliable, as the antibody takes three months to develop after infection.'' He said no HIV antibody test should be done without consent from clients.

''We do not believe such a universal test is a proper way to curb the disease.'' The Department of Health was yesterday still awaiting a reply from the mainland on details of the tests and measures to minimise inconvenience.

Dr Lee said his association would table the issue at this year's meeting with its mainland counterparts if the department failed to reach any agreement with China.

Meanwhile, the Hongkong China News Agency reported a Guangdong infection control expert as saying that mainlanders faced a greater risk of infection than, for example, Americans.

He was reportedly concerned about the conditions in China because it had yet to establish screening tests for blood donors. Sharing needles for medical treatment existed in rural areas, which would further enhance the possibility of spreading the HIV virus.

However, he assured Hongkong people that needles used for the tests on frequent travellers would not be re-used.