Real-name HIV testing raises privacy concerns

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A senior health official of the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region denied on Thursday a real-name HIV testing policy - which is expected to begin soon in the region - will be compulsory.

A clinic offering free HIV test [file photo] 

Tang Zhenzhu, director of the Guangxi disease control and prevention center, told China Daily that people taking an HIV test who refuse the real-name registry would still get a free screening, though they were strongly recommended to give their names.

Earlier this month, the online community raged as Guangxi drafted a legislation requiring personal information including ID number, name and address for HIV screening.

Currently, takers first undergo a preliminary screening and those who test positive take a confirmation test, which usually takes a week to show final results.

"The new policy, which highly encourages real-name testing, actually only demands personal information for confirmation testing," he said.

At government HIV voluntary counseling and testing clinics, people can choose whether to remain anonymous or not, he said.

According to Tang, the real-name registry aims to better track the infected and offer timely counseling and treatment if needed, and their privacy is protected as the information is only known by health workers for contact reasons.

Under the anonymous testing policy, many never show up after a positive test result, which makes follow-up service and intervention efforts almost impossible, he said.

Xiao Dong, who heads a civil organization committed to HIV/AIDS control in Beijing, said a real-name registry was reasonable for confirmation testing as that is associated with medications supplied by the government.

"But for screenings, that only drives potential sufferers away, as not everyone coming for screenings is well prepared to handle the impact of a positive result," he said.

Some close to the situation hold similar doubts.

"People might be scared away by real-name screening," said a veteran AIDS control expert who did not want to be named.

Wu Zunyou, director of the National Center for AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases Control and Prevention, said that in principle they recommend anonymous screening and real-name confirmation testing.

To date, most of the Chinese regions follow that except Yunnan province and Beijing, which demand real-name screenings for both first and second tests, he said.

"Personal willingness for a real-name registry has to be respected, particularly at voluntary consulting and testing clinics in order to encourage self-initiated screening," Wu said.

But certain medical circumstances, such as blood donations and surgeries, usually involve real-name registries for both screening and confirmation testing, which he said is the correct procedure.

Official statistics showed more than half of the reported HIV cases were detected at medical institutions.

By the end of 2011, China had 780,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, government estimates showed, but only about 400,000 are known.

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