The President of the Police Association of NSW has wrongly implied that HIV can be spread by saliva or by biting a person, after an incident in the NSW Northern Rivers town of Casino in which a man allegedly bit a police officer and assaulted another after claiming to “have AIDS.”
Police Association president Tony King released a press release which resulted in a story in the Daily Telegraph titled “Agonising AIDS wait for cops amid NSW blood test farce [sic]” on Thursday in which police officers demanded the mandatory testing of any suspect who exposed emergency personnel to their bodily fluids.
“These two officers and their families now face an incredibly anxious wait to have to find out whether they’ve been infected with anything,” King claimed in his press release.
“What those officers and their families are going through right now is unimaginable.”
“Police are police spat on, bitten and attacked with needles. When that happens, we’re forced to endure torturously long wait times simply because the government hasn’t bothered to fix the red tape that would ease the pain of officers.”
“It’s time for the NSW Government to act to on the disgusting practice of exposing police officers to bodily fluids and diseases.”
LGBTQI community heath care provider ACON condemned the claims, suggesting they were many decades out of date with current understandings of how treatable and communicable the HIV virus was.
“ACON strongly opposes the introduction of mandatory testing of individuals whose bodily fluids come into contact with emergency services personnel, including police officers,” ACON CEO Nicholas Parkhill said.
“Mandatory disease testing of people is ineffective in reducing harm or risk to people involved in potential exposure incidents.”
“The premise of mandatory testing is based on outdated, 30-year old notions of HIV and other blood-borne virus (BBV) transmission risk. International health bodies such as UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation oppose mandatory testing on the basis that it compromises public health initiatives and efforts to eliminate HIV and other BBV transmission.”
“Punitive laws based on outdated misconceptions and myths about how HIV and other BBVs are transmitted, and which perpetuate stigma and discrimination need to be repealed, not introduced during a time where HIV notifications are reducing in NSW and HIV is a treatable and manageable condition.”
“The proposal has no basis in medical evidence,” Parkhill continued, “The mechanisms proposed will do little to address stress for police or their families who believe they’ve been put at risk of BBV infection, much of which is based on misunderstanding of the ways in which BBVs are transmitted.”
“In the case of HIV, it is not transmissible through saliva. There have been no cases of saliva being a transmission route for HIV in Australia.”
“Mandatory testing would violate state and national guidelines that indicate testing should be voluntary except in exceptional circumstances. Given that saliva is not considered a risk for blood-borne viruses, this act would not cross the threshold for mandatory testing under current policy settings in Australia.”
“Mandatory disease testing of individuals infringes on the human rights of individuals, and increase community stigmatisation of people living with HIV, Hepatitis B (HBV) and Hepatitis C (HCV).”
“It has the potential to further exacerbate stigma and discrimination of marginalised populations including people living with mental illness, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, people who are homeless, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, sex workers and people who use drugs – communities that already face disproportion discrimination against on the basis of these attributes.”
“ACON, along with the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine, the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations and six other leading HIV and BBV organisations put forward a policy position paper on this issue to the NSW Government in October 2018.”
“We condemn the inflammatory language throughout the article, such as the use of AIDS when referring to HIV. Sensational reporting fuels stigma experienced by people living with HIV, perpetuates outdated myths and stereotypes, increases social isolation among communities affected by HIV and undermines HIV prevention efforts.”
“AIDS, which stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, describes the most advanced stages of HIV infection. Someone who has an AIDS diagnosis has a syndrome characterised by a severely weakened immune system and typically has debilitating symptoms. Due to the effectiveness of modern antiretroviral treatments, AIDS diagnoses are now rare in Australia.”
“HIV is the virus that can lead to the condition called AIDS. The use of AIDS to refer to HIV is inaccurate and outdated.”