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Human rights and HIV interventions in Chinese labour camps
  1. Richard Pearshouse,
  2. Joseph J Amon
  1. Health and Human Rights Division, Human Rights Watch, New York, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Joseph Amon, Health and Human Rights Division, Human Rights Watch, New York, NY 10118-3299, USA; amonj{at}

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Yap et al 1 suggest that China's labour camps for drug users present an opportunity to implement universal ‘test and treat’ programmes. They contend that such a step would be consistent with ‘humanitarian’ principles endorsed by The Global Fund and the World Bank.

Their recommendation is surprising and troubling. The paper cited to support this position (which we coauthored) is not in fact a call to scale-up HIV treatment in drug detention centres. Rather, it summarises the emerging policy consensus among UN agencies and bilateral and international aid agencies that drug detention centres undermine the fight against HIV and should be closed.2

The authors make no mention that The Global Fund board recently adopted a policy explicitly refusing to fund programmes in such facilities (in China and elsewhere).3 They (and other donors) have taken this position because they recognise that abuses in such centres are routine and that donors have little ability to ensure independent oversight of their funds or programmes.4

Since 2008, Human Rights Watch has conducted research into compulsory drug detention centres in China and Southeast Asia.5 We have found a wide range of severe human rights abuses, including, in China, the use of HIV tests, according to one guard ‘to know which female inmates they could sleep with without using a condom’.6

Yap and colleagues’ recommendations for universal testing and treatment are intended, no doubt, to protect the health and well-being of those detained. Yet, their research failed to ask the right questions and consequently prescribes the wrong medicine. Expanded HIV treatment would aid some concerns of some detainees. Closing these centres down, in line with the joint views of 12 UN agencies, would advance both public health and human rights.7



  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.