Subject: SMH: HIV tests in E.Timor to be optional

Also: AAP: AIDS group condemns NT govt HIV screening demand

Sydney Morning Herald June 28, 2001

HIV tests to be optional

Dili: The United Nations in East Timor will encourage staff to volunteer for HIV tests but cannot make them compulsory on human rights grounds.

Responding to reports that a Darwin woman had contracted the virus from a UN employee based in East Timor, the Northern Territory Chief Minister, Mr Burke, this week urged the UN to screen all its employees for HIV to prevent its spread in East Timor and Australia, adding that should it fail to do so Canberra should consider restricting the visa that allows UN staff to visit Darwin.

The Northern Territory Government says it has diagnosed 10 cases of HIV in visitors from East Timor.

A spokeswoman for the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor yesterday accepted not enforcing compulsory testing of UN personnel posed a health risk, but defended the policy. "We don't do tests for HIV because it is a basic human rights issue and considered discriminatory." she said.

The UN has about 11,250 people in East Timor, including about 8,000 peacekeepers from 10 countries.

Only one case of HIV had been detected in East Timor and all donated blood was screened, a senior Dili-based public health official said.

Mark Dodd

NT: AIDS group condemns NT govt HIV screening demand

By Rod McGuirk

DARWIN, June 28 AAP - The Northern Territory government's demand that the United Nations screen its East Timor personnel for HIV has come under fire from the Australian Federation of Aids Organisations.

The NT government has called for the UN to enforce compulsory and ongoing screening of all personnel in East Timor after a Darwin woman contracted the virus from a UN employee on leave.

Australia's peak HIV/AIDS body argued such infections may become more prevalent if mandatory testing were enforced.

"Screening people for HIV based on mandatory testing is not an effective means of preventing HIV infection and furthermore, can lead to stigma and discrimination," AFAO acting executive director Chris Ward said.

"The action that the NT government is demanding may unintentionally lead to effects such as reducing the likelihood that people would voluntarily seek HIV testing and therefore their willingness to access the appropriate information."

The UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) dismissed the government's demands as discriminatory and illegal in most countries.

But NT Chief Minister Denis Burke said highest priority had to be preventing a Cambodia-scale AIDS epidemic in East Timor.

"And more than that, I'm concerned about the spread amongst the heterosexual population of the NT," Mr Burke said.

"I find it amazing that all of a sudden something is discrimination against an individual when no-one seems to give a great deal of concern about the potential for infection amongst the (East Timor) population.

"If the UN wants to take a leadership role on dealing with the spread of AIDS ... I would have thought that it was a protective and necessary measure to ensure that any foreign workers were screened initially to ensure they were free of such a disease."

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