SCMP Monday, July 31, 2000

Drug centre claims compulsory testing has been a success

ELLA LEE


The head of a drug rehabilitation centre which requires all inmates to undergo compulsory HIV tests - a practice denounced by critics as discriminatory - has claimed the measure has been a success.

The Christian Zheng Sheng Association's drug rehabilitation centre in Kam Tin also requires its two HIV-infected inmates to disclose their condition to all inmates and staff. The centre is the only one in Hong Kong requiring all inmates to take HIV tests.

Mo Wai-kit, 51, who contracted HIV through sharing needles, joined the centre six months ago. Mr Mo, known as Uncle Kit at the centre, has to stay for two years under a probation order. The centre's policy runs against Department of Health guidelines but officials are powerless to stop it.

Association director Lam Hey-shing was criticised by health officials and Aids activists when he introduced the policy in 1994. "We do take HIV-infected people and we are willing to take more. People who criticised us for so many years were very wrong," he said. "We never discriminate against Aids patients. Actually, before Uncle Kit came to us, he was refused by many other centres. We are the ones who accepted him.

"Is it stupid to know how many people get the virus but to have no idea who they are? You end up failing to help the infected and preventing others from being infected," Mr Lam said.

"Uncle Kit's case is a good illustration. Nobody knew he had Aids, so other inmates at Shek Kwu Chau drug rehabilitation centre shared needles with him. He was spreading the disease to other people. We must let all other inmates know about the situation so they can take precautions - we have an obligation to protect them. At the same time, we educate them to accept Aids patients. Uncle Kit is having a happy life here."

Mr Mo said compulsory HIV testing once caused him stress. "My heart was so heavy when I first arrived at this place. All other people here know I have Aids, I worried so much. I did not want other people to look down on me and discriminate against me," he said. "I feel much better now. I have friends here. They all accept me as a member. We eat together, work together - there is no discrimination."

The Department of Health guidelines say testing as a prerequisite for joining a rehabilitation programme is not warranted. But a spokesman for the Government's Narcotics Division said treatment centres had the power to set admission rules. "The Government has no intention, at least at this moment, to force these agencies to apply particular admission rules," he said.

Tony Pang Shing-fook, project officer of the substances abuse and Aids department at the Council of Social Services, said compulsory HIV tests on drug rehabilitation inmates put too much pressure on the infected.