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China Discusses Medical Secrecy After Woman Infects Unaware Husband with HIV

The story of a young man being infected with HIV because he was unaware that his wife was HIV positive has made the headlines in China. Netizens discuss an ethical dilemma: should patient confidentiality override the safety of the partner?

Manya Koetse

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The story of a young man being infected with HIV because he was unaware that his wife was HIV positive has made the headlines in China. Netizens discuss an ethical dilemma: should patient confidentiality override the safety of the partner?

The news that Xiaoxin has HIV came as a bolt out of the blue. The young man from Henan Province is in the prime of his life and just got married. He was completely oblivious to the fact that his wife had been diagnosed with HIV. Now it is too late to take extra measures.

Xiaoxin’s case has become trending on Sina Weibo, where netizens are discussing an ethical dilemma: should the doctors have told Xiaoxin of his wife’s condition, or was it right for them to maintain professional secrecy?

 

“I lost all hope. I felt like my world was crumbling. I am still so young, what am I going to do?”

 

As reported by Legal Evening News (法制晚报), the young man Xiaoxin from Yongcheng, Henan Province, told his story on City TV this week.

In March of 2015, Xiaoxin was preparing to get married with his fiancee Xiaoxie. In order to get their marriage registration, they needed to do pre-marital health check-ups at the local hospital. The results of the check-ups came out quickly, Xiaoxin says, and although Xiaoxie was called into the doctor’s office for some time, the doctor later told him that everything was normal.

Three months later, when the couple was already married and living together, Xiaoxin, who was on a business trip, got the news from Xiaoxie that she had received a phone call from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) telling her that a confirmatory test came out positive for HIV and that he might have contracted it too – which later out turned out to be the case. Xiaoxin told City TV: “At that time I lost all hope. I felt like my world was crumbling. I am still so young, what am I going to do?”

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Xiaoxin tells City TV: “At that time I lost all hope. I felt like my world was crumbling. I am still so young, what am I going to do?”
According to the CDC, Mrs. Xiaoxie had since long known she had HIV; they have her records on file to prove it. The rapid pre-marital tests in March had also indicated that she was “likely to be HIV positive”. Xiaoxin’s name was written on top of the results cart, but he claims he never even saw those papers. His wife also claims that she did not know, and that she does not know why the hospital was not more clear to her when the results had come through in March. The question remains: who was hiding the truth, Xiaoxie or the CDC?

Xiaoxin is now suing the hospital for not disclosing the results of the pre-marital tests with him.

 

“What is more important, Xiaoxie’s right to medical secrecy, or Xiaoxin’s right to decide over his own life and health?”

 

Chinese media and netizens debate what is more important, Xiaoxie’s right to medical secrecy, or Xiaoxin’s right to decide over his own life and health?

According to experts, if Xiaoxie knew she had contracted HIV, she should have told her (future) husband herself. Medical staff and the CDC have professional confidentiality and are not allowed to inform others about her condition. Some experts and lawyers believe that this confidentiality, however, should not apply to those who live together with the patient and who can easily be infected, especially when it concerns their legal spouse.

Yunnan, Guangxi, and other provinces have already proposed a new law that gives local disease control departments the right to inform spouses or partners of AIDS or HIV patients of their condition, if the patient does not take the initiative to inform people themselves, Legal Evening News writes.

 

“Why don’t you attack the woman who concealed this?”

 

HIV/AIDS is a major problem in China. The most common form of HIV infection is through heterosexual transmission (46.5% in 2011), followed by injection drug use (28.4%) (Saag 2014, 329). According to HIV specialist Nitin Saksena, the number of young, predominantly gay men getting infected has also been growing at an alarming rate in 2015. Faltering sex education and unawareness about HIV are contributing factors to China’s HIV epidemic. Those living with HIV face serious social stigmas (also read our story on the 8-year-old with HIV who was banned from his village).

“This story neglects one thing,” a Weibo netizen comments on the case of Xiaoxin: “Which is that doctors are required to maintain the patient’s medical confidentiality. So shouldn’t the woman who concealed her condition be the one you attack? The law states that doctors need to protect their patient’s privacy, and it’s not like you cannot get married when you have AIDS. So before you start blaming doctors, you should first look at the whole picture.”

Sharing one’s HIV status is a personal choice, but in some countries it may also be a legal requirement. Some states in the US have laws that stipulate that HIV patients have to tell specific people about their diagnosis. In Australia, a man who was accused of inflicting HIV on another man appeared in court this month. He was charged with “recklessly inflicting grievous bodily harm”. In The Netherlands, three men were sentenced to prison (one of them for 12 years) in 2005 for deliberately infecting other men with HIV during private sex parties.

For doctors, keeping patients’ HIV status a secret from their (bed) partners is a medical duty, but sometimes also becomes a moral dilemma (also read: Should Doctors Keep Patients’ HIV Status a Secret?)

 

“If you don’t let him know, then what is the whole purpose of the pre-marital check-up?”

 

Weibo user Qiu Haihai says: “This belongs to the realm of personal privacy. The hospital has no obligation to tell others. If the man would break up with the woman because of it, and she commits suicide afterwards, her family would hold the hospital responsible.”

Another netizen remarks that the pre-marital health check-up is not an ordinary health check-up, but that it is a confirmation that both sides are healthy before they get married: “If you don’t let him know [about her HIV status], then what is the whole purpose of the pre-marital checkup?”

“The doctor did not just conceal information,” one person says: “He deceived him by saying everything was normal.”

“What a poor guy,” another commenter writes: “You might as well stay together and live in peace now. Take it easy, get medical treatment. Medical science is improving all the time. Maybe a miracle will happen. May Buddha bless you and lead you out of the shadows towards a healthy future.”

By Manya Koetse

References (if not stated here then they are linked through in-text)

Saag, Michael S. 2014. Updates in HIV and AIDS: Part I, An Issue of Infectious Disease Clinics. Birmingham: Elsevier.

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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1 Comment

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    Nadia

    February 15, 2016 at 8:27 am

    May Jesus Christ have mercy on Xiaoxin for not knowing about his wifes HIV status.

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China Health & Science

40-Year-Old Woman Completes Shanghai Marathon While 8 Months Pregnant

Pregnant marathon runner Lili clashes with Chinese traditional attitudes towards women who are expecting a baby.

Jessica Colwell

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A 40-year-old woman named Li Lili (黎莉莉) became news in China after she ran the Shanghai Marathon last Sunday while 32 weeks pregnant, completing the race in five hours and 17 minutes.

This was the third marathon Li has run during her pregnancy. She ran the first two during week eight (with a time of 3:54:43) and week 22 (with a time of 4:47:58) of her pregnancy.

Lily is an avid runner, having completed 62 marathons during her lifetime. Her story went viral on Weibo under the hashtag “8 Months Pregnant 40-Year-Old Woman Runs Marathon” (#40岁孕妇怀胎8月跑完全马#), which has received over 200 million reads at time of writing.

[Li has run three marathons during her pregnancy, one in each trimester.]

Her story has ignited debate across Weibo this week regarding the merits and dangers of vigorous exercise during pregnancy. In interviews with the press, however, Li remained defiant in the face of her critics.

“For many people, they are worried about this because they don’t understand it,” she told video news site Pear Video in an interview.

“Many people have told me it is dangerous. They criticize me, just like they criticized Chen Yihan,” she says, referring to Taiwanese actress Ivy Chen (陈意涵) who faced fierce online criticism after posting pictures of herself running while five months pregnant in 2018.

Actress Ivy Chen’s controversial Weibo post from 2018, showing her running 5 kilometers while five months pregnant.

“But most of these critics have never even been pregnant,” Li continued: “The fact is, I did this because I have a very deep understanding of my own body. I’ve run over 60 marathons, I am an extremely good runner. I’ve run a marathon in 3:28, which is considered an excellent time even for talented athletes, even for men. I have my own training methods, I’ve been training for a very long time, and have carefully prepared for these marathons.”

The reactions to Li’s story online have ranged from enthusiastic praise to outright condemnation.

“Wow! I admire how strong she is! It is said that each person knows what is right for them in their own heart. It’s none of your business what she does with this unborn hero!” gushes the most popular comment on Pear Video’s Weibo post about the story.

But another popular comment argues that marathon running is actually inappropriate for Chinese women in general: “Foreigners running marathons is fine, but this is not for Chinese women. Pregnant Chinese women running marathons is equivalent to them not caring for their children.”

The results from a poll put out by Chengdu Economic Daily so far show the majority of readers do not oppose Li’s decision to run a marathon, with 54,000 choosing the option “One case cannot represent the whole, it will vary from individual to individual” and 38,000 choosing “Support, if the mother’s body is strong enough.” Only 17,000 chose the option “Oppose, pregnant women should not engage in vigorous exercise.”

“What do you think of a 40-year-old woman running a marathon while 8 months pregnant?” asks a Weibo poll by Chengdu Economic Daily.

Some comments on the poll argued that Li was irresponsible to take part in a marathon, in case something did go wrong: “Problems come up when you least expect them. If it’s just you running on your own, that’s one thing. But this is a group race. I can’t say if it’s right or wrong, but it could bring a lot of trouble to other people.”

But the majority of popular comments expressed outright support and admiration, or at the very least opposition to Li’s critics, telling them to mind their own business.

The support for Li’s decision appears to fly in the face of Chinese traditional attitudes towards pregnant women. The list of dos and don’ts for Chinese mothers-to-be is long and complex, ranging from the bizarre (no eating/drinking dark foods so as not to affect the baby’s skin color) to the more common (avoiding shellfish).

The belief that pregnant mothers should avoid exertion is high on the list, extending even to the month after birth.

But despite these strong traditions, Li’s strength and determination have clearly inspired new support for expectant mothers who wish to continue an active lifestyle while pregnant.

Also read: ‘Sitting the Month’ – a Gift or Torture?

Also read: Bad Mom To Be? Pregnant Woman Intentionally Trips 4-Year-Old Boy in Baoji

By Jessica Colwell
Follow @whatsonweibo

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©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Health & Science

No Need for Plague Panic? China’s Trending Plague Outbreak

After the Year of the Pig brought swine flue, some fear the Year of the Rat will bring the ‘rat plague.’

Manya Koetse

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For the past nine days, during which three cases of the plague have been reported in China, the deadly bubonic plague has become a hot topic on Chinese social media.

The topic first made headlines on November 12, when Chinese state media announced that two people, a husband and wife from Inner Mongolia, were transported to Beijing’s Chaoyang Hospital for treatment after being diagnosed with the pneumonic plague.

The couple reportedly got sick after eating raw marmot kidney.

A 55-year old hunter from the same region, the Inner Mongolian Xilingol League, was later also diagnosed with bubonic plague after eating wild rabbit meat.

The bubonic plague, also called the ‘Black Death,’ is an infectious disease that is known to have caused one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, killing millions of people in 14th century Europe.

News of the three cases of bubonic plague reminded many of the 2003 SARS panic; an outbreak of SARS in southern China caused over 8000 cases that year.

The World Health Organisation criticized China at the time for covering up the scale of the problem, with officials conceding in the Spring of 2003 that China’s SARs problem was “nearly 10 times worse than had been admitted.”

Current online reports on the bubonic plague in China stress that there is no reason for panic, with a hospital spokesperson confirming that the situation is “under control.”

42 people who are known to have come into contact with the Chinese patients have all been quarantined and were not found to have any symptoms of catching the disease.

Chinese (state) media channels are spreading social media posts this week that mainly emphasize that the plague “can be prevented, controlled, and managed,” and that it can be effectively treated.

“Don’t panic over plague outbreak,” Sina News headlines, with People’s Daily posting on Weibo that, according to the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “there is no need to worry.”

The bubonic plague primarily affects rodents and other animals, with animals – and incidentally humans – usually contracting the infection through insects such as (rat) fleas. This form of plague is highly contagious – can spread through coughing – and could be fatal within days if left untreated (Benedict 1996, 4).

Mammals such as rabbits or marmots, as eaten by the recent Chinese patients, but also rats, squirrels, gerbils, mice, etc., can all harbor the disease.

Although the disease is increasingly rare, and for many is something from the history books, there were still 3248 cases worldwide between 2010 and 2015, leading to 584 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

Although Chinese media stress that there is no need to panic over the recent outbreak of the bubonic plague, many netizens still fear an epidemic, making comments such as: “The Year of the Pig brought the [African] swine fever, now the plague is starting just before the Year of the Rat!” (The word for ‘plague’ in Chinese is 鼠疫 shǔyì, literally meaning ‘rat plague’ or ‘mouse plague’).

Others are asking questions such as: “Do we risk the plague more if we have mice in the house?” and “How can we prevent getting it?”

Meanwhile, according to Jiemian News reports, the area in Inner Mongolia where the patients originally contracted the illness is currently under strict control by the Ministries of Health and Agriculture; some roads are closed off, and there’s temperature screening for those taking public transport.

The area has seen four cases of plague over the past decades, the most recent one before this month being in 2004.

Last news on the current three patients was from last Saturday, when it was reported that at least one of the patients is now in stable condition.

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

References

Benedict, Carol Ann. 1996. Bubonic Plague in Nineteenth Plague in Nineteenth Century China. Stanford University Press.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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