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In Namibia, Chinese Scholarships Require HIV Status

Joe DeCapua

In Namibia, a human rights group says students applying for Chinese scholarships are required to reveal their HIV status on their applications.  The AIDS Law Unit of the Legal Assistance Center says the requirement violates Namibia’s anti-discrimination laws.

Aids Law Unit Project Coordinator Amon Ngavetene said it is common for foreign countries to offer Namibian students scholarships, but it is uncommon to ask for their HIV status. He alleges students could be turned down if they are HIV positive.

The scholarships are administered through Namibia’s Ministry of Education.

“What we know is that the requirements and conditions for these scholarships are being set by the Chinese government,” he said, and added that the group has attempted to meet with Chinese officials.

“On several attempts when we tried to have an audience with the Chinese embassy they have not been successful. But our understanding is those kind of requirements are purely based on prejudice. It’s based on a culture of a government that does not respect human rights. A government that doesn’t care about what …international trends are in terms of how you treat people with HIV/AIDS and so on,” he said.

However, Ngavetene said the AIDS Law Unit recognizes that China is a “foreign and sovereign state.” It said that the group would rather deal directly with the Namibian government on the issue, “knowing very well…our laws and what kind of values that we live in as a democratic society.”

He said the country’s constitution is very clear on the matter. He said, “Every person has a right to equality and freedom from discrimination. We have a national policy on HIV/AIDS, which is based on human rights, which discourages any kind of stigma and discrimination on the basis of HIV,” he said.

Ngavetene said Namibia is also a party to a number of international agreements opposing discrimination.

“Therefore we believe our government should not even think about taking those scholarships with conditions, which undermine our values as a democratic society,” he said.

The AIDS Law Unit has complained to the Namibian government and met with officials, but it said no progress has been made to resolve the issue. It’s unclear how many Namibian students have applied for the Chinese scholarships, which provide and education for such things as engineering and medicine. It says the education ministry has not been forthcoming with that information.

Ngavetene said it has received many complaints about the HIV status disclosure on the Chinese scholarship application. “They are scared that if apply they might be excluded,” he said.

Writing in the International Journal of Epidemiology in 2010, Chinese health officials have said, “China is among the countries that have committed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Remarkable progress has been made in promoting HIV prevention, treatment care and support in China in recent years. In particular, China is one of only a few low-and middle-income countries in which domestic funds account for the major proportion of their HIV/AIDS program funding."

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