Flying in the face of medical research, China's Ministry of Commerce recently released a proposal to prohibit access to public baths for carriers of the HIV virus and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Published online as part of proposed bathhouse regulations, the tentative ban falls within a larger government plan to crack down on China's under-regulated massage parlors and spas, The Guardian reports. If enforced, the regulation would require public bath houses to post notices restricting access of "people with sexually transmitted diseases, AIDs and infectious skin diseases," the BBC notes.
The proposed ban speaks to a health concern that lacks a basis in medical research.
"Over so many years, there has been no epidemiological investigation showing anybody being infected because of exposure in public bathhouses," said Wu Hao, a researcher in Beijing whose statement was published on the website of a national AIDS prevention center overseen by China's National Health and Family Planning Commission.
Hedia Belhadj, who coordinates China's division of the United Nations AIDs agency (UNAIDS),spoke out against the proposed regulation to AFP.
"UNAIDS recommends that restrictions preventing people living with HIV from accessing bath houses, spas and other similar facilities be removed from the final draft of this policy."
The CIA World Factbook estimates the percentage of adults living with HIV/AIDs in China to be only 0.01 percent, which is lower than in many Western countries, including the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Despite China's reported commitment to develop HIV prevention and treatment programs, as outlined in a study in the International Journal of Epidemiology, another study highlighted the troubling stigmatization caregivers working with HIV/AIDs patients experience.
The Guardian also notes that several hospitals have been known to deny treatment to HIV carriers suffering from other conditions, which perhaps does not come as a surprise in a country that until 2008 prohibited HIV carriers from entering its borders.
Such stigma might shed light on the ill-informed nature of the Ministry of Commerce's proposed ban, which incorrectly assumes bathhouses to be a place of transfer for the virus. Some critics, such as Wu Hao, have called on the government to curb the spread of misinformation by retracting the proposal.
"Banning HIV patients from using public bathhouses and spas will only exacerbate people's misunderstanding, discrimination and fear of HIV/Aids, and will not help reduce the transmission of the disease," he said.