Updated 8:44 AM EDT, Wed, Aug 18, 2021

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WHO, UN Urge China to Better Safeguard Confidential HIV Status

Center For Disease Control Launches Program For AIDS Testing At Drugstores

(Photo : Getty Images) A sign for free HIV testing is seen outside a Walgreens pharmacy in Times Square in New York City.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme has called on the Chinese government to increase the security of health information for people with HIV.

Both health organizations reacted after personal data of at least 388 people positive with HIV leaked in a fraud in which individuals posing as government officials called them up. The unidentified callers reportedly told the patients that they will be given government subsidies after they paid around 600 yuan ($90) as service fees.

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Four persons have reportedly fallen into the trap. The fraudsters, who promised to give 6,800 yuan ($1,016) in subsidies, have defrauded between 700 yuan ($104) and 6,700 yuan ($1,000), according to Bai Hua, head of the Baihualin National Alliance, a nongovernmental organization providing assistance to people with HIV.

Although how the scammers were able to obtain such vital information has not been known yet, both the WHO and the United Nations (UN) have described the incident a violation of the fundament right to patient confidentiality.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention admitted on Sunday that it had indeed received complaints from HIV-positive people that they have been victims of a phone scam and suspected that their personal data had been divulged.

"Some HIV-positive persons told me that the scammers knew their names, addresses, the time when they were diagnosed, even the special disease control centre and the doctors who prescribed them medicines," Bai said.

While the leak could pose a threat to these patients' lives, it could also break the trust established between health officials and patients.

"If we don't report our case... we won't get free medication. But if we do report ourselves, we are taking the risk of being exposed, of our privacy being violated," an HIV-positive man nicknamed Ming told Sixth Tone.

This is not the first time patients' information has been stolen in China. In May, police officers from Jinan nabbed four people for stealing and selling the personal information of at least 200,000 children.

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