The peak NSW HIV organisation ACON, has announced its opposition to NSW Government plans to legislate mandatory HIV testing of people whose bodily fluids come in contact with frontline workers as paramedics and police.
In an announcement made this week, the government outlined its intent to introduce a scheme that allows mandatory testing of HIV and other blood borne viruses (BBV) in NSW. The proposed model will also give Police, Corrections and other officers the power to determine when testing occurs.
ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill said: “Mandatory testing is not based on any evidence of occupational transmission of disease and is rejected by the NSW Australian Medical Association as ineffective and unjustifiable. It is a backwards step for NSW’s world-leading HIV response.”
“There has not been a case of HIV transmission through occupational exposure in Australia in 17 years and there has never been a recorded case of occupational HIV transmission to a police officer anywhere in Australia. Simply put, HIV transmissions do not occur in this way and any assertions that frontline workers are at risk of being exposed are utterly false,” Parkhill said.
Parkhill said significant reductions in HIV in NSW meant there was less risk now than ever before.
“Most people with HIV in NSW are on effective treatment and commence treatment as soon as possible, meaning that they are unable to pass on HIV. In short, there is no evidence that this law is needed,” Parkhill said.
“We are extremely disappointed that the NSW Government has decided to join NSW Labor in going down this path. Critical decisions about health interventions and disease transmission risk should only be made by trained medical experts, and with informed consent,” Parkhill said.
“We support protecting the health, wellbeing and safety of frontline emergency service personnel. We agree they must be protected as much as possible in high-level occupational risk environments,” Mr Parkhill said.
“However, putting in place legislation that has no evidence base and relies on outdated and stigmatising notions of disease transmission risk, is alarming and retrograde,” Parkhill said.
“We know from the experience of other Australian jurisdictions that similar policies have been poorly implemented with inadequate monitoring, data and accountability – with no evidence of positive impact. Implementation of such a policy in NSW raises significant questions which need to be considered carefully so as not to cause unnecessary harms,” Parkhill said.
Parkhill said the move toward mandatory HIV testing was in opposition to Australia’s National HIV Strategy 2018-2022 and the policy positions of UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation.
“Punitive laws based on outdated and debunked myths about how HIV and other BBVs are transmitted, and that perpetuate stigma, prejudice and discrimination, do not need to be introduced at a time when so much progress has been made in ending HIV in NSW. This move runs the risk of derailing NSW’s world-leading HIV response,” Parkhill said.
“We strongly urge the NSW Government to reconsider the introduction of mandatory testing laws and failing that, to put in place a model that addresses inherent risks and issues that we believe need urgent attention, and one that allows for greater medical oversight and input,” Mr Parkhill said.