SCMP – Thursday, April 15, 2004
JOSEPHINE MA in Beijing
Charges will be dropped for HIV tests on the mainland in an attempt to identify more carriers of the virus, China Central Television reported yesterday.
The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Finance announced that the tests must now be offered free of charge, putting an end to the practice whereby local health authorities charge for the procedure.
Local health authorities charge 80 to 100 yuan for HIV tests, and in some regions where there are a high number of Aids cases, villagers are even forced to pay for compulsory tests.
In Wenlou village in Henan, villagers are required to pay a 20-yuan deposit when they get an HIV test. The money is returned if the test results are positive.
Prominent Aids activist Gao Yaojie welcomed the move and said the central government should have provided free testing a long time ago. “Not many people can afford that much for the tests,” she said.
In impoverished villages devastated by Aids, 100 yuan can be several months’ income for some families.
The announcement said test results would be kept confidential, but Dr Gao said this should not be used as an excuse to cover up the extent of the epidemic.
“They should be open about the number of HIV carriers and the cause of transmission,” she said.
The central government will pay for the costs of HIV tests in impoverished areas with high infection rates, but local governments will have to foot the bill in other areas.
There are officially 840,000 people with HIV and 80,000 with full-blown Aids on the mainland, but activists believe the real number could be 10 times higher because many people are reluctant to get tested either out of fear of discrimination or because of the cost. The United Nations Aids agency says the number of people infected on the mainland could rise to 10 million by 2020 without more aggressive prevention efforts.