NSW’s leading HIV organisation, ACON, opposes moves by the NSW Government to follow NSW Labor’s plan announced last week to introduce a Bill to enforce mandatory testing of individuals whose bodily fluids come into contact with frontline workers.
In an announcement made today, the government intends to introduce a scheme that will allow for mandatory testing of HIV and other blood-borne viruses (BBV) in NSW. The model proposed by the NSW government will also give police, corrections and other officers the power to determine when testing occurs.
ACON condemns mandatory disease testing of people
ACON condemns moves to introduce mandatory disease testing of people. It is ineffective in reducing harm or risk to people involved in potential exposure incidents and fails to stand up to medical scrutiny.
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.
Less risk now than ever before
Mr Parkhill said significant reductions in HIV in NSW means that there is even 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.
‘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.
Mr Parkhill also said that ACON supports 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occupational risk environments, however, putting in place legislation that has no evidence base and relies on outdated and stigmatising notions of disease transmission risk, is alarming and retrograde.
‘Advances in prevention and treatment of HIV mean that police and other frontline professionals have access to treatments that prevent the transmission of the virus, and these treatments are prescribed by doctors who are trained in identifying potential risk.
‘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.
Risk of violating people’s rights and civil liberties
‘These planned laws run the risk of not only violating best-practice testing guidelines, but also people’s rights and civil liberties. Mandatory testing contradicts state and national guidelines that indicate testing should be voluntary.’
This move is oppositional 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.
‘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’.