China's Treatment Of Drug Users Hindering Efforts To Curb Spread Of HIV

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Efforts to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS among drug users in China are being hindered by the government's treatment of the population, according to a Human Rights Watch report released Tuesday, Reuters reports. Drug addiction has received more funding and attention in China as injection drug use has become one of the main routes of HIV transmission in the country and "party" drugs have seen increased popularity, Reuters reports.

The report is based on 2007 interviews with 19 drug users and 20 officials in the border region of Guangxi, where drug use is the cause of nearly every reported HIV/AIDS case. "Drug users in rehabilitation centers are treated as prisoners, not patients, and subject to abusive and inhumane conditions of confinement," the report said. It adds that "detox" centers and re-education through labor centers set up by the government are "prison-like," with abusive guards, limited medical treatment and work without payment. In addition, there are reported cases of drug users who were detained when entering or leaving HIV testing and treatment centers, the report said. It also found that testing is rarely confidential, creating fears of discrimination directed at drug users and adding to the already existing stigma associated with HIV. The report also found that drug users who undergo testing while detained often are not told their results (Hornby, Reuters, 12/8).


According to AFP/Yahoo! News, the report found that since 2000, the government has created more than 500 methadone treatment clinics but has placed more and more drug users into mandatory rehabilitation centers instead. Joe Amon, HIV/AIDS program director at Human Rights Watch, said, "The Chinese government claims that drug users are sent to these facilities for drug dependence treatment. But instead of treatment, they are put in overcrowded cells, denied medical care, beaten and forced to do menial work. On top of it all their families are forced to pay for the 'therapy' they receive."

There are about three million to six million drug users in China, and almost half of all recent HIV cases are associated with drug use, Human Rights Watch said, quoting government reports (AFP/Yahoo! News, 12/9). The report also found that although some nongovernmental organizations have seen local success if they remain inconspicuous, their efforts are hindered by a legal requirement that NGOs partner with a government agency. In addition, NGO employees report threats and arrests.

Reuters reports that the Ministry of Public Security said it plans to build 45 non-mandatory drug treatment centers with a more "friendly environment," instead of only providing compulsory centers as they have done in the past (Reuters, 12/8). The report also called on the government to close the rehabilitation centers and to increase access to voluntary, community-based drug treatment and HIV/AIDS prevention services. China's Ministry of Health and the public security ministry declined to comment (AFP/Yahoo! News, 12/9).

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