A department director at a local disease control center in Luoyang, a city in central China’s Henan province, has been accused of taking advantage of his position to sell “almighty magical medicine” to people with HIV.
Xie Yafeng, director of the infectious diseases department at Luolong District’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has already had his Communist Party membership revoked, but it remains unknown whether he will receive further punishment, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper, reported Wednesday.
A whistleblower who lives 900 kilometers away in Hunan province told Sixth Tone that he reported Xie’s behavior to the local discipline inspection commission on July 7 on behalf of the victims. “The patients did not dare to reveal the truth because Xie had their personal information,” the 40-year-old man said, adding that some of the people who contacted him are gay, married, or employed by government departments. “They are afraid that their secret health conditions will be exposed. If I were in their situation, I would be scared, too — and I would hope that someone would speak out on my behalf.”
China’s CDCs are public service institutions established by the government. As an official channel for HIV-positive people, the center provides free medicine and government subsidies, which in Henan province amount to 2,400 yuan ($360) per year.
One of the victims, who declined to reveal his name to protect his privacy, told Sixth Tone that Xie had used the WeChat messaging app to invite people living with HIV to a group of roughly 120 members. While Xie initially said the group was for announcements and notices relating to CDC services, people soon realized that it was just a way for Xie to make money.
Screenshots from the group chat show that Xie started his business at least seven months ago. In January, he sent a message for the apparent purpose of recruiting HIV-positive people to participate in a special project for a local company. “Bio-fermentation technology has miraculous results in treating and curing chronic disease such as cancer and AIDS,” Xie wrote. “While traditional Western medicine might not conquer the disease, traditional Chinese medicine potentially has the power!”
Currently, HIV infection cannot be cured, though it can be treated. However, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) treatments and immunizations are not recognized by authorities to be effective.
According to the National Enterprise Credit Information Publicity System, China’s publicly accessible database of officially registered businesses, the company Xie recommended — Henan Ge’er Biological Technology Co. Ltd. — is listed as an “abnormal operation” that provides neither TCM nor any other kind of medical service. A recent court document also showed that the company had been unable to repay a 40,000-yuan debt.
Xie also arranged to invite a doctor surnamed Lin — whom Xia introduced as a direct descendant of Hua Tuo, a well-known Han Dynasty physician — to treat patients with HIV. “Though many patients had no faith in the program, they still chose to participate because Xie threatened them,” the whistleblower explained.
According to screenshots from WeChat, Xie asked participants to send him the following private message to demonstrate that they were not being coerced into treatment: “I’m willing to let you provide services to me. I will be obedient and actively collaborate with your work.”
More than 40 patients attended the program with Dr. Lin. Xie initially claimed that the event was free, but participants were later asked to pay between 300 and 1,100 yuan for physical examinations, treatments, and even Dr. Lin’s travel expenses. Moreover, after some people attended the program, Xie denied them access to the free medicine provided by government.
On June 28 and 29, the official account of the Luoyang municipal CDC published two announcements about Xie’s private business selling “magic” medicines, explaining that Xie had been suspended from his position and been docked three months’ salary.
Qiu Hengyu, the lawyer who represented an HIV-positive man in China’s first-ever HIV-related workplace discrimination case, told Sixth Tone that he suspects Xie’s actions constitute extortion and embezzling subsidies. The local discipline inspection commission has not yet announced whether Xie will be prosecuted.
Xiao Dong, director of Rainbow Health Center, a Beijing-based AIDS prevention NGO, told Sixth Tone that CDC doctors should be a shield that protects patients. “Unfortunately, this case will negatively impact patients’ trust in the government and in the enforcement of national policies,” he said.
“HIV-positive patients will worry about their privacy and the security of their personal information,” Xiao added. “We also worry that this case may affect other departments’ willingness to provide AIDS prevention services in the future.”
Editor: Nuala Gathercole Lam.
(Header image: Science Source/VCG)