Beijing has drawn flak from the World Health Organization following the leak of personal information of HIV-positive individuals, which have been used by unscrupulous persons.

At least 313 of persons with HIV have reported receiving calls from people claiming to be government representatives and offering financial incentives in exchange for bank information. They then use the account information to swindle the victims, and those who refused were threatened with exposing their identities online.

The leak, according to WHO, is a violation of a patient’s fundamental rights and raised a more serious concern that people may no longer want to be tested for HIV or come in for treatment and prevention. Not only will the breach likely deter efforts to reduce the spread of HIV, but it may also even possibly increase the rate of infection.

WHO, in its statement, declared: "The confidentiality of the personal and health information of anyone seeking HIV or other medical services must be safeguarded. The leak of personal information of people living with HIV is a violation of this fundamental right to patient confidentiality."

One of the victims said that the callers knew his name, ID number, work and home address as well as marital status. The swindlers were even aware of patient-doctor schedules, a factor that terrified the patients.

Chinese authorities are now investigating the source of the information breach and assured the public that those who have taken advantage of the leaked data would be apprehended and punished to the full extent of the law.

Chinese health authorities likewise vowed to upgrade cyber security perimeters to prevent any similar hacks in the future. The Chinese Center for Disease Control is working with the police to protect sensitive information.

While the number of persons living with HIV in China remained low compared to the total population, the rate of reporting has steadily been increasing since 2010. Of significance is the rise in the number of men engaged in male-to-male sexual intercourse who have tested positive for the virus. It was likewise noted that HIV cases involving persons who used injectable drugs through needle sharing have increased.

The HIV patient leak is particularly sensitive given China’s history of discriminating against infected persons. Locals are estranged and are unable to find work, while foreigners found to be HIV positive were banned from obtaining visas until 2010.

One high-profile incident demonstrating the strong stigma the virus carries was when around 200 people signed a petition to banish an eight-year-old boy from their village because he was found to be HIV positive. MIMS