Chinese government contemplates barring people with HIV/Aids from bathhouses (Reuters)

China wants to ban people with HIV from visiting the country's bathhouses and is drafting regulation to deny them access.

The Chinese government's Ministry of Commerce has started canvassing public opinion for its proposal to have signs put up in bathhouses saying people with HIV/Aids are not welcome.

According to China's Xinhua news agency, the ban would include businesses offering foot care and spa baths. It also says bathhouses should ban people with sexually transmitted diseases and infectious skin conditions.

The proposal has met with criticism from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and Aids. UNAIDS says the ban would go against its regulation, which stipulates that people with HIV should not be discriminated against. It has urged the Chinese government to scrap the regulation.

Guy Taylor, from the UNAIDS China office, said: "We are concerned about the regulation. It's important to highlight that HIV can only be transmitted in three ways: through sexual contact, through blood-borne transmission and through mother-to-child transmission.

"There is no risk of transmission of HIV through casual contact in bathhouses or similar facilities.

"Addressing HIV-related stigma and discrimination is a critical component of the response to HIV, and this is recognised by the Chinese government's policies."

Sina Weibo survey shows most people agree with banning HIV positive people from bathhouses (Reuters)

The draft bill was also criticised by the China Rainbow Health Organisation, a Beijing-based HIV/AIDS prevention group, which called the move backwards.

According to the Global Times, a survey by social networking website Sina Weibo found over 70% of its 23,000 respondents believed the ban was necessary to protect public health. Just 20% said the draft was unfair and would increase discrimination against people with HIV.

Zhang Xibao, director of Guangzhou Institute of Dermatology, also welcomed the regulation, saying STDs can be transmitted by sharing baths, even though the risk was very low.

Xiao Dong, head of China Rainbow Health Organisation, disputed his claim: "It's common sense that people don't get HIV from sharing baths or swimming pools. It's not possible for the disease to be transmitted when the viruses, already weak outside the human body, are diluted by the baths and deactivated by chlorine in the water."

Wu Zunyou, director of the National Centre for Aids and Sexually Transmitted Disease Control and Prevention, said that while he does not think HIV can be spread by sharing baths, men who visit these establishments are more likely to have unprotected sex.

However, he also noted that the regulation will be difficult to control: "You can't tell by one's appearance if they are HIV-positive or not. How can bathhouses check whether customers have the virus?"