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China's bathhouse ban makes waves
Publication Date : 15-10-2013
UNAIDS' China office has expressed concern with a draft regulation from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce that would ask bathhouses to ban people with HIV.
The draft regulation on managing bathhouses, on which public opinion is being sought until November 11, stipulates that bathhouses, including those offering spa baths and foot care, should put up signs saying that people with HIV/AIDS must not enter.
Bathhouses should also warn those with sexually transmitted diseases and infectious skin diseases to stay away, according to the draft.
"We are concerned about the regulation," said Guy Taylor, advocacy and information officer of the China office of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS.
"It's important to highlight that HIV can only be transmitted in three ways: through sexual contact, through blood-borne transmission and through mother-to-child transmission. There is no risk of transmission of HIV through casual contact in bathhouses or similar facilities.
"Addressing HIV-related stigma and discrimination is a critical component of the response to HIV, and this is recognised by the Chinese government's policies," he said.
The Regulations on AIDS Prevention and Treatment, issued in 2006, stipulate that people should not be discriminated against because they are HIV-positive. UNAIDS therefore recommends that restrictions preventing people with HIV from accessing bathing facilities and other services should be removed, he said.
The Ministry of Commerce said it has noted public opinion on the regulations, and is reviewing it.
Xiao Dong, head of China Rainbow Health Organisation, which focuses on advocating knowledge for preventing and treating HIV/AIDS, said the ban is a step backward.
"The regulation issued by the Ministry of Commerce contradicts the Regulations on AIDS Prevention and Treatment, so it is not valid," he said.
His organisation is planning to submit suggestions in the hope that the stipulation will be removed.
However, Zhang Xibao, director of Guangzhou Institute of Dermatology, said the stipulation makes sense.
The possibility of someone getting sexually transmitted diseases or HIV/AIDS by sharing baths, though extremely low, exists, "such as when one's secretion containing enough of the virus gets into the wound of another", and it's better if people with HIV don't go to public bathhouses, he said.
"It's common sense that people don't get HIV from sharing baths or swimming pools," he said. "It's not possible for the disease to be transmitted when the viruses, already weak outside the human body, are diluted by the baths and deactivated by chlorine in the water."
Wu Zunyou, director of the National Center for AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Disease Control and Prevention, said HIV is not spread by taking baths, and the stipulation is possibly suggesting that bathhouses should try to prevent new HIV cases brought by unsafe sex.
"Many of our surveys around the country have shown that gay men who visit bathhouses frequently have a higher rate of infection than those who don't because they tend to have unprotected sex there," he said.
But the warning signs will do little to help curb new cases, Wu said. "You can't tell by one's appearance if they are HIV-positive or not. How can bathhouses check whether customers have the virus?" he said.
Xiao, the health knowledge advocator, said, "It's better to do more advocacy on safe sex rather than putting up a sign," adding that putting up such warning signs risks increasing the stigma against people with HIV/AIDS.
"Past experience has already shown that demonising HIV can only make many people with the virus hide away from public sight and even avenge the discrimination they face on innocent ones," he said.