Closure of clinic raises AIDS care costs, critics say

Updated: 2012-06-26 13:24

By Shan Juan (China Daily)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

The decision to close the first private clinic to treat AIDS patients on the Chinese mainland will create a gap in affordable HIV/AIDS treatment, critics say.

Health authorities decided to close the clinic in Nanning, capital of the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, on May 28 after finding that it was not registered to treat AIDS patients.

They also said the decision was a result of their campaign to regulate medical practices and ensure that Nanning has an orderly healthcare industry.

"If a physician lacks expertise and the appropriate buildings and equipment, there will be the risk of cross-infection and a further spreading of the disease," Ding Wei, deputy director of the health bureau in Nanning, told Xinhua News Agency.

During its 19 months in operation, the nonprofit clinic, mainly funded by AIDS Care China, an NGO that supports AIDS patients and their families, treated more than 100 full-blown AIDS patients who suffered from tuberculosis, bacterial pneumonia, meningitis and other infections. Medical care at the clinic costs less than at large public hospitals.

Thomas Cai, who leads AIDS Care China, acknowledged that the clinic had defects, but said it had helped save the lives of those who could not afford to be treated at public hospitals.

China's Five-year Action Plan for HIV/AIDS Control (2011-15) calls for qualified and competent NGOs to get involved in the country's campaign to control and treat AIDS.

Most anti-AIDS NGOs now help health authorities with HIV/AIDS prevention and behavior intervention, said Jing Jun, a professor in Tsinghua University's social policy institute.

He said health authorities should pay such organizations to provide services needed to supplement the government's fight against the disease.

The work of civil societies should be integrated into the country's comprehensive work in AIDS intervention, the action plan said.

The plan also said treatment costs should be lowered to make medical care less expensive for AIDS patients.

Cai said the cost of treating more than 100 patients was about 220,000 yuan ($34,600). Care in large, State-owned hospitals would probably have cost 10 times that amount, he said.

"Closing the clinic is tantamount to denying poor patients affordable and lifesaving treatment," he said.

On the Chinese mainland, the government has been offering free antiretroviral treatment to AIDS patients since 2003.

Also, the country's Infectious Disease Prevention and Treatment Law, promulgated in 2004, classifies HIV/AIDS as a Grade B infectious disease, meaning that those who contract it do not have to be quarantined at designated hospitals.

No regulations or laws now prohibit privately owned clinics on the Chinese mainland from treating AIDS patients.

"Patients should at least have the choice of obtaining cheaper treatment at clinics like the one in Nanning," said an AIDS patient surnamed Zhao. He said he tends to go to large public hospitals if he can afford to pay for treatment.