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Saturday 11 April 2015

Making HIV notifiable won't impact privacy

Posted in: New Zealand Daily News, HIV
By Daily News staff - 4th August 2014

Shaun Robinson says the proposed law is very clear about confidentiality.
The New Zealand AIDS Foundation says making HIV a notifiable disease will be “extremely helpful” to its work, and people should not be concerned about their privacy being breached.

A bill introduced to Parliament last week would make long-awaited changes to the Health Act, including making HIV a notifiable disease.

Currently AIDS is notifiable but HIV infection itself is not. Those overseeing HIV testing are simply encouraged to report little more than the fact that an HIV diagnosis has occurred and some indication of the method of infection.

New Zealand AIDS Foundation Executive Director Shaun Robinson says the organisation has been working with legislation that was so outdated it didn’t even recognise HIV.

“While New Zealand has done very well with voluntary notifications of HIV infections to the AIDS Epidemiology Group this legislation now makes that more comprehensive.”

He says the data collected would be used to show a picture of the parts of the community where HIV, syphilis and gonorrhoea are spreading.

“How they are spreading and how much – all very important information for NZAF and others to help keep people safe and healthy and having great sex.”

Robinson says data on syphilis and gonorrhoea is important, as the STIs are very serious issues for gay men and people living with HIV.

“It is important that we are able to know how big theses epidemics are and how they are changing. It is also really encouraging that politicians have recognised the need to take a public health or community wide approach to keeping people healthy through this legislation.”

Robinson says people should not be concerned their confidentiality might be compromised when undertaking an HIV test. He says for most people the law just catches up on what is already happening voluntarily through doctors and other people who administer tests - for example a positive diagnosis of HIV will be notified without identifying information about the individual.

“The proposed law is very clear about confidentiality.”

Making HIV a notifiable disease would also see it covered by Health Act provisions under which health authorities can intervene with greater powers if a person with an infectious disease is not taking sufficient steps to prevent transmission to others.

The formal process of contact tracing, whereby those who may have been unwittingly infected can be tracked down and advised of their situation, would also apply to HIV.

Robinson says there are occasionally situations like the Glenn Mills case where someone is known to be deliberately or recklessly putting others at risk of HIV.

“Until this draft law is passed no one has any legal way of stopping that other than arresting the person and putting them in prison.

“This draft law allows for a lot more options including requiring someone to attend counselling. It incorporates the principle that the least punitive things should be done first so it opens up far more options for dealing with why someone might be putting others at risk, so people will be more likely to take action earlier.”

Robinson says it’s very much in line with what Australia has in place.

He’s not sure why it has taken so long for changes which were discussed back in 2007 and 2008 have taken so long to come before Parliament.

“The early versions of the Public Health Bill also looked at issues like fatty foods and that may have been too wide a scope for some politicians. Then I think it just fell into the too hard basket and stopped being a priority for any government.

“We are really pleased that Minister Jo Goodhew has recognised that the pieces related to infectious diseases needed to be moved along and that she pushed to get this into parliament.”

He believes it should pass into law, “as it is really quite practical and not politically controversial”.

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