MND backs university on expulsion of HIV-positive student

Taipei, Aug. 16 (CNA) The Ministry of National Defense (MND) on Tuesday defended National Defense University’s decision to expel an HIV-positive student in 2013, saying that the decision was taken because of the young man’s “character flaws” rather than his disease.

MND spokesman Chen Chung-chi (陳中吉) said at a press conference that the ministry, which administers the university, respected that decision. He said the ministry has yet to receive an official document regarding a NT$1 million (US$31,900) fine that was imposed on the university by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) after the HIV-positive student was expelled.

The ministry will handle the matter accordingly after it receives the official document, Chen said.

The student, called by the pseudonym Ah Li, tested positive for HIV in early 2012 at a hospital, which passed on the results to his school without his permission.

After the university received the test results, it allegedly banned Ah Li from swimming classes, forced him to wash his eating utensils separately from other students, tried repeatedly to convince him to drop out and threatened to tell his family about his disease if he refused to do so.

In 2013, Ah Li was expelled after he received several demerits for what the school said was poor attitude and conduct.

Ah Li reported the matter to the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW), which accused the university of discriminating against him because of his disease and expelling him for concocted reasons.

The MOHW demanded in May 2014 that the university reinstate Ah li, but the school refused and instead filed an administrative lawsuit against the MOHW.

In March this year, the Taipei High Administrative Court ruled in favor of the university, saying that the school was under the jurisdiction of the defense ministry rather than the MOHW, therefore, the health ministry did not have the right to overturn the school’s decision to expel the student.

The MOHW filed an appeal in the Supreme Administrative Court in April.

Chen Yi-ming (陳毅銘), a member of the university’s administrative staff, said Tuesday there was no truth to the accusations that Ah Li was banned from swimming classes and forced to wash his dishes and utensils separately.

Chen said Ah Li was expelled because he violated the school’s information security regulations by bringing a notebook computer to school in 2012 without obtaining the school’s permission to do so. He also cheated on an inspection test and was unapologetic afterward, Chen said.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Lin Tzou-yien (林奏延) said Tuesday that he and Defense Minister Feng Shih-kuan (馮世寬) had two phone discussions Monday about the matter and they agreed that “more communication” was needed to resolve the issue.

Lin, who specializes in infectious diseases, said there needed to be a change in the public perception of HIV patients.

HIV is transmitted by means of sexual contact and an exchange of body fluids, and like many other chronic diseases, it is treated with medication, he said. Patients with HIV have a normal life expectancy, Lin said, adding that Ah Li is still young and the matter should be handled in the best interests of his future.

Zhang Zhengxue (張正學), a social worker with Persons with HIV/AIDS Rights Advocacy Association of Taiwan who counseled Ah Li, said Monday that Ah Li used to be an outgoing and cheerful person but the incident has taken a toll on him and has affected his career prospects.

Without a college degree, it is difficult for Ah Li to find a job and when he does find one, he has to take time off from work quite often to appear in court in the ongoing lawsuit, Chang said.

Ah Li is hoping to return to university and complete his degree, Chang said.