New El Salvador AIDS Law Permits HIV Testing of Job Applicants
El Salvador recently passed a law to protect HIV-positive patients' rights and guarantee drug treatment, but an amendment to the law allows employers to test prospective employees for the virus, permitting "the very opposite of what international labor standards recommend," Knight Ridder/Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The "much-anticipated" law -- which sets up a federally funded AIDS commission mandating universal education and treatment options for Salvadorans -- was written by the Health Ministry, but the "controversial clause" was added by the
"right-wing" Arena Party, which controls the Legislature. El Salvador is the last among Central American countries to pass a law that addresses AIDS, and the bill "was considered a step forward" for the country, Knight Ridder/Inquirer reports. However, according to the U.N. International Labour Organization, the amendment is "unprecedented," as no other country has a rule permitting such testing. "We known many places do the test anyway -- hidden and illegally -- but to put it right there in the law? No way," Brigette Zug de Castillo of the ILO's
AIDS program said. Congressmember Rafael Arevalo, a member of the committee that added the clause, called it "necessary to control the spread" of HIV and added that the testing would allow employers to "find the most appropriate job for HIV-positive employees -- like keeping them away from sharp objects." HIV/AIDS activists, however, expressed concern that the clause will prevent the estimated 30,000 HIV-positive people in El Salvador from gaining employment or accessing health care. "Many congressmen are business owners. It's convenient for them to have this [clause]," Jorge Cortez said. AIDS activists have suggested that the Arena Party added the clause to shelter the business community from potential losses if an HIV-positive employee became sick. However, defenders of the clause point out that it prevents employers from rejecting an applicant based on HIV test results. AIDS advocates filed suit in November to have the law reversed (Robles, Knight Ridder/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/10).
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