Colombian Guerillas Expel Three Town Residents Who Test Positive for HIV
Three people who tested positive for HIV after submitting to a mandatory HIV test imposed by Colombian guerillas have been expelled from their town, the Guardian reports (Hodgson, Guardian, 10/23). The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a guerilla group that has taken control of parts of Colombia in the country's internal war, has ordered all teen and adult residents of the town Vista Hermosa to be tested for HIV. The orders mark the first time that the FARC has ordered "massive" HIV testing, a practice that is illegal in Colombia, but FARC military commander Jose Briceno gave no reason for the mandatory testing other than that it was part of a larger "health campaign" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/12). Local officials say that all residents over the age of nine have been ordered to take the test, which costs them a day's wages. Jose Lionel Castano, a mayor in the region controlled by the FARC, said that the three people who tested positive for HIV had been ordered to leave Vista Hermosa. "We know it's not legal, but there's nothing we can do. An order is an order, and you have to obey the people in command," Castano said. Dr. Jaime Pacheco, the head of HIV testing at the local hospital, said that the results of the tests were given directly to patients and he does not know how the guerillas got the test results. According to the Guardian, there have been reports that Vista Hermosa residents must carry an identity card that shows the results of their HIV test.
Human rights groups and health officials have criticized the testing campaign as a violation of privacy and basic rights. Eduardo Cifuentes, state human rights ombudsman, said, "Nobody can be obliged to take an AIDS test and it is unacceptable that people who test positive should be obliged to leave their home. This violates their human rights." Jacobo Diaz, health secretary for the region, added, "The decision to take an AIDS test must come from raising awareness, not from pressure by an armed group." However, Doralba Gonzalez, an administrator at the local hospital where the tests are being given, said that some local residents "think [the testing] is a great idea," adding that "[i]t's best to be safe than sorry" (Guardian, 10/23).