White Families in South Africa Illegally Testing Black Nannies, Domestic Workers for HIV
A growing number of white families in South Africa are engaging in the "illegal" but "widespread" practice of screening their black domestic workers for HIV, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Although white South Africans have been "relatively unaffected up to now" by the country's AIDS epidemic, many families fear that their children might contract HIV from their nannies and domestic workers, who sometimes comfort the babies by letting them suck on their breasts. The "hysteria" over HIV infection has led many white families to ask their doctors to administer a blood test to their domestic workers and report the results directly back to them. South Africa's Employment Equity Act bans "covert" HIV testing of employees and prohibits the dismissal of a worker based on his or her HIV status. However, many employers attempt to "get around the law" by screening workers' CD4+ cell counts or having them tested for diseases such as tuberculosis or "any other ailment that may indicate an underlying immune disorder." The Chronicle reports that many wealthy employers send their HIV-positive workers home on full pay while hiring a second maid to work on the other employee's behalf. Because HIV infection rates are especially high for individuals ages 20 to 29, some employers hire elderly women to serve as domestic workers.
Doctors who agree to perform the tests are coming under legal scrutiny. Approximately 30 physicians in the Johannesburg area are under investigation for "divulging the HIV status of patients to third parties." Anita Kleinsmidt, an attorney with the AIDS Law Project of the University of the Witwatersrand, said that doctors will likely be taken "directly to court" instead of to the Health Practitioner's Council over charges of disclosure of HIV status. She added that the council -- the "highest medical body" in South Africa -- has not yet turned in a guilty verdict for a physician.
Little Cause for Alarm
Dr. Ruben Sher, a South African HIV researcher, said that the risk only applies to children who receive milk from a woman. In situations where a woman is not releasing breast milk, the chance of HIV transmission is "almost zero," Sher said. "There is a lot of hysteria about this, and I keep hoping that we have got past this issue. If the domestic worker is not lactating and is just using the breast as a comforter, there is very little risk," Sher said. He added that in these situations, children could only contract HIV if there are sores on the woman's breast and in the child's mouth (Du Venage, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/10).