An Investigation Into The Jiangsu Hospital AIDS Rumors
(China Youth Daily) An Investigation Into The Jiangsu Hospital AIDS Rumors: Official Statements From Hospital Unable To Stop Spread Of Rumors. By Zhang Guo. May 27, 2009.
Rumors abound about the famous medical facility, Jiangsu Province People's Hospital. These rumors have been around for a month, because they have the ingredients to become Internet hits: a pretty woman, bribery, sex scandals, homosexuality and a frightening disease: AIDS.
At first impression, this story can be a hit television drama series. The rumors said that a doctor at the Jiangsu Province People's Hospital had a pre-marital medical check up and was diagnosed with AIDS. This led to a female pharmaceutical company representative, who in turn led to a number of other doctors including the department head.
The most popular Internet post says: "Hidden rules at the hospital caused the Province People's Hospital to lose four top surgeons" and "it can be seen that the relationships between pharmaceutical company representatives and doctors are messy."
The story unfolded in stages: Someone claimed that this pharmaceutical company representatives had caught AIDS but deliberately infected other people; sexual liaisons within this hospital were a mess, so that many nurses were also infected; someone else says that the virus was being spread by a homosexual/bisexual person.
There is no 'consistent' count for the number of AIDS patients. Someone said 7 doctors. Someone else said 8 doctors and 12 nurses.
A storyteller left another line of inquiry: "The most scary thing is that this pharmaceutical company representative did not cover just Jiangsu Province People's Hospital ... who knows how many more doctors have been infected?"
Then all the other famous hospitals in Nanjing were named.
When the China Youth Daily reporter arrived in Nanjing, he heard many conflicting stories.
University teacher Lu Yong used the word "scary" repeatedly to describe his own reactions upon hearing this story. He asked his friends in the pharmaceutical industry and he got an unexpected answer: The AIDS virus was spread by a homosexual doctor and not related to any pharmaceutical company representative.
A lawyer made multiple inquiries and learned: "The female pharmaceutical company representative wanted to take revenge on society. She has reportedly been arrested. Four doctors, two nurses and two officials at the Provincial People's Hospital were infected."
A doctor in Wuxi city, Jiangsu province called his colleagues at the Jiangsu Province People's Hospital. Someone said "It is inappropriate to reply now, but I'll tell you later." Someone else said: "This may be true." A certain pharmaceutical product salesperson said: "It did happen."
This doctor reflects: "If the mainstream media do not dispel the rumors quickly, then this matter must be true."
The "sources" of these "reliable" stories all came from "friends," "fellow students," "family members," "wives of fellow students," "relatives of work colleagues" and "cousins who are interns" at the Jiangsu Province People's Hospital.
Someone wrote on the Internet that when he asked a good friend who works at the Jiangsu Province People's Hospital about this matter, there was a 5 second silence followed by: "Don't tell anyone that you asked me!"
The reporter traced backwards and found that the earliest Internet post was made at midnight on April 22 over at the Xici Hutong forum. Until May 1, there was not much attention.
On May 1, there was an Internet statement from "the medical workers at Jiangsu Province People's Hospital." This statement strongly condemned "the small number of people with ulterior motives who are working hard to spread rumors." This drew strong interest from netizens.
The reporter was able to verify that this statement came from hospital workers.
The statement said: "Anyone in any line of work can be infected. It is possible and normal for medical workers to be infected with AIDS. A hospital is a high-risk area, and a doctor is in a high-risk profession. They can be injured by surgical wounds, virus infections or radiation. Doctor Norman Bethune died as a result of virus infection while performing surgery."
Over at Xici Hutong, someone commented: "That is awesome. But it didn't say whether any medical workers were infected. Room is left for further explanation."
The rumors then began to get wilder.
On May 14, a brief official statement appeared on the website of the Jiangsu Province People's Hospital and carried by the website of the Jiangsu Province Department of Health: "The information on the Internet about how several of our doctors were infected by AIDS is fabrication."
The Jiangsu Province People's Hospital emphasized: "To date, there has not been a single instance of any patient or medical worker being infected with AIDS at our hospital." "The Internet rumors have seriously affected the reputation of our hospital. We sincerely ask netizen friends not to believe these rumors and their false information. At the same time, we state solemnly that we reserve the right to hold those who fabricate and disseminate these rumors legally responsible."
This statement drew more parsing from some people. They wondered if the statement was evading the public doubts. The hospital has not said whether anyone was infected with AIDS at the Jiangsu Province People's Hospital because it only said that "there has not been a single instance of infection at the hospital" without excluding the possibility that people may have been infected outside of the hospital. The infection between the pharmaceutical company representative and the doctors may have occurred out the hospital. There was no explanation as to whether anyone was infected, who was infected and how many cases have occurred. The hospital only said that it was false to say that "several doctors were infected with AIDS."
University teacher Lu Yong thinks that the public cannot come to a clear conclusion on the basis on the Internet information and the hospital statement. The relevant parties should come out and make a clear statement and not let the rumors fester anymore.
Someone commented about the hospital's statement: "Actually we don't believe in rumors. In the absence of information from normal channels, rumors often turn out to be true. The mainstream media should have stepped in early on and reported the truth. The rumors would have disappeared already."
The target was the female pharmaceutical company representative, who was named on the Internet. Let us call her by the pseudonym Zhao Qi here.
The data about Zhao Qi on the Internet were: Born in 1982, graduate of the Nanjing Medical University, close relationship with many doctors at the Province People's Hospital with one doctor almost getting a divorce over her. In December 2008, a doctor was found to carry AIDS possibly due to his connection with Zhao Qi. In March 2009, the Province People's Hospital included AIDS as part of its medical check and found several doctors carrying the virus.
The rumors contained such details that many people thought that this was true. On the Internet, three photos of Zhao Qi were circulated. Due to the poor quality of the photos, it was hard to say if this was the same person.
The clearest of the three photos actually belongs not to Zhao Qi. The China Youth Daily reporter has found the original photo at a Japanese website. The face belongs to Kitano Kie, an 18-year-old Japanese performer.
As for the company that Zhao Qi represents, rumors have said that she represents any of three multinational pharmaceutical companies.
A certain Beijing-based pharmaceutical company stated on its website on May 15 that its Nanjing office does not have any representative by the name of Zhao Qi as alleged on the Internet.
Another company was fingered earlier and it was also the first to respond. The May 6 statement said that the company does not have a worker named Zhao Qi at its Nanjing office and therefore there is no basis for saying its worker affected others with the AIDS virus.
That company believes that the Internet rumors were "pure malicious rumors" and seriously damaged its corporate reputation and image. Therefore, the company is reserving the right to seek legal redress against those who fabricate and/or disseminate the rumors.
That company statement was published at all the major Internet forums. According to a company manager, the company does not have an employee named Zhao Qi in any of its offices anywhere. He himself has been there over 5 years and he has never heard of anyone named Zhao Qi in the company.
Could Zhao Qi have been a former employee? A worker named Chen in the Nanjing office said that a veteran who has been there for 10 years has never heard of any colleague named Zhao Qi.
In Nanjing, someone speculated that Zhao Qi is not a formal employee but just a temporary worker. The company denies that: "Our company does not hire temporary workers to do sales. We do not operate this way."
Another Internet story was that Zhao Qi is a worker of the XX Pharmaceutical Company. That company stated on May 13: "After XXX company made its clarification, the comments are now directed against our company. We solemnly state here that this is a baseless rumor which is malicious libel against our company and our workers."
This company confirmed: "We have a worker named Zhao Qi. Since joining our company, she has strictly adhered to the various corporate rules and regulations as well as the relevant state laws and social ethics. Zhao Qi is in good health condition and without any sign of the so-called 'AIDS infection.' Besides, Zhao Qi was not born in 1982 and she did not work at XXX company previously. The relevant Internet comments are purely malicious libel."
A worker at the Nanjing office of this company said that he knows this colleague named Zhao Qi who looks completely different from the person in the photos on the Internet.
The China regional manager of this company tells the China Youth Daily reporter that this whole case was a rumor from start to end, and the photos on the Internet are not those of Zhao Qi.
He said that after the company saw the rumors, they contacted the Jiangsu Province People's Hospital. They also asked an authoritative organization to conduct a thorough medical check for Zhao Qi with normal results. At this time, Zhao Qi is still at her work post and company business has not been affected. He also pointed out that Zhao Qi does not handle business over at the Jiangsu Province People's Hospital.
To protect the privacy of his workers, he could not disclose more details about Zhao Qi. He said that if Zhao Qi wants to seek legal redress, the company will respect her right to do so.
This person also said that if this whole thing is false, Zhao Qi should defend her rights. "This affair is boiling over. It has damaged her reputation greatly."
At 23:59 on April 22, 2009, a new post titled <Inside information: there have been quite a few doctors with AIDS at the Province People's Hospital ...> was published at the Xici Hutong forum.
The author maxneal wrote: "It was said that one doctor was found to have AIDS when he got his pre-marital health check-up. He was linked to a pharmaceutical company representative. This pharmaceutical company representative had sexual relationships with two other doctors at the Province People's Hospital as well. So these two doctors were also found to have AIDS! The scary thing is that this pharmaceutical company representative not only works at People's Hospital, but she also covers City Number One Hospital and the Zhongda Hospital as well ... who knows how many more doctors have caught it ..."
"This information has been sealed up. Only people at the hospital know, mainly because they are afraid to tell people that AIDS is present at the People's Hospital. Who would dare to go there anymore? ..."
This exposé with its exclamation marks, ellipses, "allegedly," "inside information" and so on contains just over 200 words and warmed up very slowly. Over the next several days, it gathered 145 comments. Netizens were shocked, angered or dubious. "Really? This is explosive news. Let us make it popular!"
When someone pointed out that the premarital medical check-up does not include AIDS testing and challenged the veracity. maxneal wrote: "It is risible that someone should think that this is a rumor! You don't know what goes on inside hospitals ... yes, you don't have to test for AIDS during the pre-marital medical check-up ... but it is entirely acceptable to request that on your own, and it should be for free."
At 15:40 on April 26, the netizen "Gold Lock Village Mayor" made the 63rd comment. He wrote: "The representative is Zhao Qi of the XXX company. The three doctors are surgeons. I know this affair to be true."
This was the first Internet record that the China Youth Daily reporter was able to discover. The page has been deleted long since.
The reporter contacted maxneal who made the April 22 post. Where did he hear about <Inside information: there have been quite a few doctors with AIDS at the Province People's Hospital ...>?
maxneal replied: "This is true ... but I don't want to say any more ..."
Faced with repeated questions, maxneal kept saying "I don't want to say any more." He also emphasized: "Or else they wouldn't have a hospital-wide medical check-up ..."
The reporter repeatedly call this person using different telephones, but this person refused to answer.
The reporter sent a SMS reminder: "Only if you can prove that your post had some basis can you avoid being investigated for 'libel'."
This person replied "you have reached the wrong person" at first. Then he admitted that he made the Internet post. "I also learned it from doctors over at the hospital. I shouldn't be the one responsible for libel! You should go talk to the doctors ..."
Thereafter, this person refused to reply.
After publicly pointing out the name of the pharmaceutical company and Zhao Qi, "Gold Lock Village Mayor" faced numerous questions. He had to make two points: "(1) I only heard from someone at a certain pharmaceutical company, so it is not very certain; (2) If you want to know whether this is true, you should investigate yourself -- don't ask me."
Although "Jiangsu Province People's Hospital medical workers," Jiangsu Province People's Hospital and the three pharmaceutical companies issued "solemn statements" on May 1, May 6, May 13, May 14 and May 15 respectively and the various websites all began to delete the relevant posts, the rumors had not been dispelled.
Beginning early May, the rumors spread rapidly. The netizens posted and re-posted much faster than the deletions were occurring. The whole story was embellished and filled out.
At the same time, a <Confessions of a female pharmaceutical company representative> essay was also popular. This female pharmaceutical company representative is 24 years old, whereas Zhao Qi is supposed to be 27 years old, being born in 1982.
The female pharmaceutical company representative wrote: "So one day I finally found out that I have AIDS. I am not sad. I know that this ending was inevitable for me. I will find those people who have bullied and insulted me before. I will make love with them. I will make them feel the pain as well. My life was ruined by their hands. I want to take revenge on them."
But upon further investigation, this was an old post. The earlier version said: "I found out that I have gonorrhea." This time, "gonorrhea" was replaced by "AIDS" and this post became the latest "explosive material" from the "AIDS Gate" of Jiangsu Province People's Hospital.
Many netizens failed to spot these flaws and took the rumors to be true, just as they thought that the photos of Japanese star Kitano Kie were those of Zhao Qi.
These rumors made people wary of the largest general hospital in all of Jiangsu province.
On May 15, a survey "Would you still go to Jiangsu Province People's Hospital?" was conducted at a Xicu Hutong forum where Nanjing medical university students gather.
The investigator wrote: Recently, the AIDS Gate at Jiangsu Province People's Hospital has been red hot. Even people at the Shanghai hospitals are talking about this. Today, the Jiangsu Province People's Hospital has issued its statement of clarification. Without worrying about this was true or false, let us run a survey to see what the impact is.
Out of 42 voters, 25 chose "I trust the statement from the hospital and I will go there if I am sick." 17 chose "I believe that this affair is true and I will go to another hospital."
Ordinary citizens not in the medical field are even more afraid. A young person in Nanjing said worriedly: "Our departmental medical check-ups are all done at the Province People's Hospital. Do I dare to go there for the check-up?"
But people continue to go to the Province People's Hospital. Even in the surgery department where things took place, there is still more demand for bed space than available, so that beds are erected in the hallways to accommodate patients.
A patient told the reporter: "I don't care if it is true or false. Even if it is true, I still have to ignore it. When I am sick, I have to get treatment."
According to the hospital, the in-patient volume has not gone down.
For spreading rumors on the Intenet about AIDS at the Jiangsu Province People's Hospital, a Nanjing netizen has been detained by the police.
This netizen with the nickname "Gold Lock Village Mayor" was a registered user at the Xici Hutong forum. In April, someone posted at the forum that many doctors at the Jiangsu Province People's Hospital have been infected with AIDS. They had sexual intercourse with a pharmaceutical company representative, who is suspected of offering sex bribery. Although the various parties involved issued denials, the rumors only got more popular on the Internet.
At 15:40 on April 17, "Gold Lock Village Mayor" commented at Xici Hutong and named Zhao Qi who represented a joint venture pharmaceutical company. Three other surgeons were supposed to be involved in this affair.
In truth, this company did not have an employee named Zhao Qi, who is a sales representative at another pharmaceutical company. She has also undergone a medical check-up and she does not have the AIDS virus.
After the AIDS Gate got kicked off, the Jiangsu Province People's Hospital and its workers received large numbers of telephone calls for comments. Although the hospital did not file a police report, they reported the situation to the Department of Health.
Jiangsu Province People's Hospital learned that the pharmaceutical company representative Zhao Qi has filed a police report, and the public security bureau has detained "Gold Lock Village Mayor".
According to information, Zhao Qi intends to seek compensation through legal means.
The reporter learned from the Jiangsu Province People's Hospital that "Gold Lock Village Mayor" used to be a patient at its Department of Urology and was taking anti-rejection medicine on a daily basis. This patient wanted to receive more prescriptions than necessary so that he can sell off the unused portion. The hospital refused, so there was a conflict.
According to information, the pharmaceutical company representative Zhao Qi had crossed "Gold Lock Villager Mayor" in the past, because she "held a bad attitude" towards this patient during a health promotion event.
"Gold Lock Village Mayor" has made a public apology over his own actions.
At 22:54 on May 22, "Gold Lock Village Mayor" posted a letter of contrition at Xici Hutong. He admitted that his comment on April 26 was based upon hearsay without any basis.
"But my improper comments have created bad social influence for Zhao Qi and the Jiangsu Province People's Hospital. Here I want to apologize deeply to them. I need to reflect seriously, and work to dispel the bad influence due to my improper comments ..."
The hospital indicates that is does not intend to pursue "Gold Lock Village Mayor" for responsibility. A hospital spokesperson said: "This is a case in which things went out of control on the Internet with bad results. During the process, many people were hurt. We hope that things will calm now."
The police are continuing their investigation. "Gold Lock Village Mayor" was not the person who made the first post about AIDS gate at the Jiangsu Province People's Hospital.