The Chinese Ministry of Commerce is drafting a new policy for public bathhouses, ordering the owners of the facilities to display clear signs forbidding people with sexually-transmitted diseases, infectious skin diseases and for the first time, AIDS/HIV, from entering.
The draft Administrative Method to Regulate the Bath Industry soon made headlines after being released for public consultation, kicking up a heated row. Epidemiologists, NGOs and even UNAIDS raised suspicions or objections against the proposal. The general public holds the opposite opinion, with 72.9 percent of respondents in an online survey saying they would support the new policy.
The ministry later clarified that this controversial stipulation could be amended and even scrapped after a full discussion with public health professionals and representatives from the public. But regardless of what decision is finally taken, it has raised questions about the Chinese public's perception toward the group.
After touching a sensitive issue, the new policy is bound to raise heated debate. Some approve of it, saying it is good for both the public and individual health, while others criticize it, claiming it is discrimination against AIDS patients, and the policy is impractical. Most Chinese people, especially in underdeveloped areas, still believe AIDS is a daunting and highly infectious disease, and they usually treat HIV patients in a manner that isolates and discriminates against them.
The Ministry of Commerce has good intentions in protecting the health and safety of the majority, but the lack of a mechanism that can guarantee that the decision is made in a well-thought-through manner can only leave an impression to the public that it cares about HIV patients much less. How to ensure that the rhetoric is neutral and that measures are detailed is what really matters.
As for the authorities, it is becoming difficult to strike a balance between both sides. On the one hand, the authorities cannot ignore the fear of the populace and loosen certain regulations in the hope that the HIV patients and non-HIV-infected people will instantly establish a mutual understanding. On the other hand, it would be wrong for them to sacrifice the rights of HIV patients and exclude them from the community in one way or another.
China has been touted as a rising power, but more details are needed to illustrate its powerfulness. This includes its attitude toward the disadvantaged in society.