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Outrage as Australian state defends 6-month HIV warning delay

Published time: July 17, 2014 14:59
AFP Photo / Farooq Naeem

AFP Photo / Farooq Naeem

The government in the Australian state of Victoria has supported doctors who informed 400 people who came into contact with an HIV-positive healthcare worker only six months after the worker notified authorities of being infected.

The authorities were informed that 399 residents of an undisclosed Victorian town have been treated by an HIV-positive dentist in January, but the Victorian Health Department sent letters notifying the potentially infected people of the matter only in July.

However, Victorian Premier Denis Napthin believes that there was nothing wrong in the half-year delay.

“In these matters it isn’t for politicians to second guess the doctors and the medical experts, who are the appropriate ones to make decisions and to give advice on dealing with these health matters,” Napthine is cited as saying by AAP.

The premier expressed confidence that Victoria’s chief medical officer, Rosemary Lester, had handled the situation in accordance with national rules and guidelines.

Earlier Lester said that the chances that infection passes from a healthcare worker to a patient are very low.

“We are erring on the side of caution and recommending blood test to rule out the presence of HIV,” she said.

Over 120 people in Victoria have been already tested, with all of them being negative.

“We trust and hope that the assessment from the medical experts of a low risk comes to fruition and that all the people contacted through this trace-back test will test negative,” Napthine stressed.

Victorian Health Minister David Davis has complained that the process of tracking down all potentially exposed patients was “complex.”

A panel of experts, gathered to deal with the situation, has performed its duties “thoroughly” in timing consistent similar incidents interstate, he added.

But the opposition isn’t satisfied with the explanation, accusing the government of being sluggish in dealing with the HIV scare.

“Denis Napthine needs to explain why it took seven months from the health worker being diagnosed to community being informed,” Jenny Mikakos, Victorian shadow minister for community services, children, seniors and ageing, stressed.

“This is an extremely serious matter and the community deserves answers,"
she added.

The human immunodeficiency virus has recently became a serious concern for Victoria as in 2013 the state saw the highest number of new HIV diagnoses since the height of the epidemic in the early 1990s.

According to the figures recently released by the Australian Department of Health, 303 people were diagnosed with HIV in Victoria last year, which is a 16 percent increase compared to 261 diagnoses in 2012.

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