Criminal proceedings over HIV transmissions may lead to further stigmatisation of the disease, the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM) has warned.
ASHM CEO Levinia Crooks said there are already avenues in place to report people who may be knowingly infecting others with HIV, and has warned of the ghettoising effect legal action could have.
“In countries where a positive diagnosis is criminalised and stigmatised, people avoid testing. They therefore cannot access management and may be forced into risky situations,” she told Sydney Star Observer.
“Many people with HIV have acquired it and transmitted it unknowingly, not maliciously or as a weapon, so why should it be treated any other way?
“The public health approach recognises human rights and the capacity to retain personal autonomy.”
Crooks pointed to existing models for dealing with people at risk of deliberately transmitting HIV as more effective.
NSW Health has in place a series of policies and an assessment panel set up specifically to deal with these situations.
Chaired by the Sydney Sexual Health Centre director and made up of representatives from the HIV community sector and public health officials, the panel advises on cases where people, usually as a result of mental illness or behavioural problems, are spreading infectious diseases.
A NSW Health spokesman said counselling was usually the first line of action, but where appropriate the panel could escalate to issuing a Public Health Order and send a letter of warning.
South Sydney Illawarra Health and Sydney South West also have specialist teams, set up to work specifically with people who have HIV and complex needs — these can include mental health problems, dementia or issues of homelessnes.
Health workers are required to contact the health department immediately when “there are clear grounds for a charge of intentionally causing serious bodily harm,” the spokesman said, or when “upon investigation, there is evidence of unwillingness to alter behaviour that may recklessly or negligently endanger or cause serious harm”.
“[The panel] has dealt with a number of cases effectively,” Crooks said.
“Health care workers and others with a legitimate concern can bring a matter to the attention of the panel, where it is dealt with by people with specialist knowledge. In that manner, individualised programs can be developed to address people’s individual circumstances.”
She urged people concerned about anyone deliberately transmitting disease to contact NSW Health, or to go through organisations like ACON or Positive Life.
info: For more information visit www.health.nsw.gov.au