UN tells China: Don’t ban HIV positive people from accessing saunas and bathhouses

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The United Nations’ HIV agency has urged China to drop proposals banning people who are HIV positive from accessing spas and public bathhouses.

China’s State Council has published a draft law on its website calling on venues to prominently display signs prohibiting “people with sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS and infectious skin diseases” from using the facilities.

Hedia Belhad, from UNAIDS, criticised the move and said it would undermine efforts to tackle China’s HIV epidemic.

UNAIDS estimates that there are 780,000 people living with HIV in China – and men who have sex with men (MSM) are often prevented from accessing HIV testing and medication – seen by world health experts, along with condom use, as a crucial way of reducing onward transmission of the virus.

“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,” Ms Belhadj told AFP.

She pointed out there is no risk of transmission of HIV in a spa or bathhouse setting.

“The only value of this draft law is in discriminating against those with AIDS,” added Yu Fangqiang, director of the Nanjing-based anti-discrimination NGO Justice for All.

HIV prevention campaigners in the UK have long argued that restricting gay and bisexual men from accessing male saunas is simply a counter-productive move. Rather than trying to stigmatise clients of such venues – UK policy is based on working with saunas in helping those most at risk with condom use, testing, and general HIV awareness.

Homosexuality was decriminalised in China in 1997 and its status as a mental disorder revoked in 2001, but legal protection for LGBT citizens is minimal.