Chinese workers catch HIV/AIDS while abroad due to lack of training

2015-08-17 09:03Global Times Editor: Li Yan

Xiao Kong (pseudonym) used to work in Nigeria, but he was forced to return home after losing his job. His company fired him for contracting HIV/AIDS, making him one of many Chinese men that contract the virus while working abroad.

"I don't hang out with my colleagues outside of work and only look for jobs which don't require a health exam," Xiao, 25, told the Global Times, adding that he keeps his disease a secret as he fears discrimination.

Xiao was sent to work in Lagos, Nigeria, by his former employer at the end of 2011, and was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in early 2014.

The technician said he was infected when helping a bleeding local that was an HIV carrier, and that he tried to get compensation from his company after they fired him. A lawyer told him to abandon his dispute as he couldn't prove how he was infected.

According to the Ministry of Commerce (MOC), a total of 562,000 Chinese citizens went to work abroad in 2014, but the exact number of Chinese nationals that have caught HIV/AIDS overseas has not been made public.

Chinese NGOs that focus on HIV/AIDS and migrants told the Global Times that little research has been done into the risks of infection that workers face abroad.

The lack of research is a consequence of Chinese organizations finding these workers hard to reach, both financially and geographically, and managers trying to avoid any negative impact on their company's image that could come from an association with HIV/AIDS, said senior NGO staff members.

A life of discrimination

"I wish I had another fatal disease, at least I won't be discriminated against," said Xiao.

Xiao's life completely changed after he was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, and rumors spread about his personality as many people associate the disease with licentious lifestyles.

A total of 87 percent of HIV carriers in China were infected via sex, according to an investigation from the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

Xiao went to Shanghai and started a new life where no one knew he was an HIV carrier and has not revealed his secret to anyone in the city. "I can't have close friends, they will eventually find out and judge me," said Xiao.

A member of staff at a local center for disease control and prevention told Xiao that many of the HIV carriers that come to the center contracted the virus while working in other countries.

Infection through sex

Limited knowledge of HIV/AIDS, the rarity of condom use, and an attitude of invincibility all make overseas workers vulnerable to the virus, according to a 2006 study by the Japan Center for International Exchange.

While working abroad these people enjoy a certain degree of anonymity, won't be judged for their behavior and have sexual needs, said the chair of an AIDS project at the Beijing Office of International Labour Organization.

The majority of Chinese overseas workers that get infected with HIV/AIDS do so through having unprotected sex with prostitutes, said Shen Jie, vice president with the Chinese Association of Sexually Transmitted Disease and AIDS Prevention and Control.

A State-owned enterprise employee surnamed Liu that has been working in Nigeria for two years told the Global Times that companies supply their workers with prostitutes.

A Tanzanian company with 160 Chinese employees, offered prostitutes on construction sites, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung quoted one of the company's employees as saying.

Nonexistent training

Most Chinese workers that head abroad for work are from the countryside and are poorly educated, according to a report from the Shandong Province Department of Commerce in May 2014.

An employee of China Datang Overseas Investment Company, a State-owned power generating firm, told the Global Times that workers are meant to receive training before they go overseas.

But AIDS prevention training is not commonplace, said the staff member.

Both Xiao and Liu said they did not receive any information about diseases before working in Africa.

Zheng Kai from the China International Contractors Association, an association of labor-exporting companies, told the Global Times that firms can access training materials that cover the risks of working overseas for free on the website of the MOC.

"However [companies] still need to pay for training and whether or not they actually carry out any training is not supervised," added Zhang.


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