Compiled and translated by Bing-sheng Lee
A student at the National Defense University was expelled from the school after he was found HIV-positive. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) filed an administrative litigation against the school for the student, but the court ruled against CDC. The CDC says it would appeal against the ruling.
The student was tested HIV-positive fours years ago. Upon learning about the student’s condition, the school prohibited him from taking swimming classes and required that his food, plates and clothes must be washed separately from those of other students.
Each week, school officials would ask him to take a leave of absence because “he was feeling bad both physically and mentally,” and asked him to drop out of school because “his classmates thought he was weird.” In the end, the school even threatened the student that it would notify his family of his condition if he didn’t drop out.
When the student was about to graduate, the school expelled him after accusing him of having a disobedient attitude and being disrespectful to teachers. The student then went to the Persons with HIV/AIDS Rights Advocacy Association of Taiwan (PRAA) and CDC for help.
Lin Yi-hui, secretary-general of PRAA, says the student learned about his condition from the results of the annual health examination at the school. She thinks the school’s obsolete attitude towards AIDS and the improper measures it took to address the issue has hurt the student.
The CDC considers the university’s decision to be discriminative and requested the school reinstate the student and let him complete his degree. The court rejected the request.
Steve Kuo, director-general of the CDC, says he feels very sorry for the loss and the CDC will appeal.
Kuo says he is worried that if the CDC loses the case, other government units might do something similar to AIDS-infected people in the future.
In an interview with Apple Daily, Kuo stresses that the key to addressing issues related to AIDS is whether the patients who have yet to receive medication would be willing to receive proper treatment. If discrimination against HIV-positive people becomes a norm, the patients would be less willing to ask for help.
Kuo mentions that the ruling of the court does not deny that the school discriminated against the student. He believes the court’s decision neglects the spirit of the HIV Infection Control and Patient Rights Protection Act. The ruling might prevent the CDC from helping other HIV-positive patients and it is unacceptable that government administrations can get away with related discrimination.
Lack of knowledge results in public antipathy towards AIDS patients
Taiwan has a history of being unfriendly to HIV-positive people. Most of the misunderstanding results from a lack of knowledge and awareness of HIV/AIDS.
The slogan of the government’s anti-AIDS campaign in the past read, “Others respect you only when you respect yourself,” implying that AIDS patients get infected because they don’t respect themselves. [Slogan translated]
In 1992, Chang Po-ya, former minister of Health and Welfare, described AIDS patients as people who live disgracefully and die unseen. Eleven years later, former Vice President Annette Lu said AIDS is a punishment from God.
In 2014, Taiwan Lourdes Association, a non-profit organization providing various services for people with HIV/AIDS, released a survey on the attitudes of Taiwan’s general public towards HIV/AIDS.
The survey showed that more than 20% of the Taiwanese believed that taking a bath, sharing a shower, swimming, holding hands and kissing an AIDS infected person could lead to infection. Over 50% were not willing to live with an AIDS patient, and about 60% did not know how to interact with people with HIV.
In addition, 30% of the subjects did not want to have AIDS-infected people as their employees or colleagues. Over 50% said that they were not willing to be served by AIDS-infected barbers, cosmetologists or nurses.
Hsieh Szu-ming, an expert in infectious disease at National Taiwan University Hospital, says that HIV can only be passed on via sexual intercourse and large amounts of body fluid exchange. Many people’s knowledge of HIV/AIDS is incorrect.
Mei Ying, director of a fund-raising project for AIDS patients, says that AIDS-infected people are often singled out in society. She says that most people overreact to HIV/AIDS. AIDS is in fact similar to other chronic diseases and is controllable through regular medication and treatment. The disease does not always significantly impact the daily lives of AIDS patients.
According to latest statistics released by the CDC, there are 26,409 registered AIDS patients in Taiwan so far. Yet, the actual number of patients is estimated to be more than 31,000 people with about 8,800 people not receiving treatment.