Salvadoran AIDS Activists Protest HIV Testing in the Workplace
AIDS activists in El Salvador plan to file a "series of cases" before the nation's highest court in an attempt to overturn a controversial new law that allows employers to screen employees and prospective employees for HIV, the Christian Science Monitor reports. The measure was passed late last year as part of a package of AIDS-related legislation (Elton, Christian Science Monitor, 2/22). The package -- 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. However, according to the U.N. International Labour Organization, the amendment is "unprecedented," as no other country has a rule permitting such testing (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/11). Although the law includes a provision prohibiting employers from discriminating based on the results of an HIV test, activists say that people who test positive could lose work. "The employer is not going to say he is firing someone because they are HIV-positive, because they could be denounced legally for that. They are going to say it's for another reason, give that person all the severance they are entitled to, and nobody will be able to challenge it," Licida Bautista, director of El Salvador's chapter of AIDS Action for Central America, said. Activists argue that the law is a "violation of privacy." However, bill author Norman Quijano, a member of the business-backed ARENA party, said it was intended only to keep people with the virus out of "high-risk" positions. He added that although the law may be misused, "he can't be held responsible for employers' ignorance" about HIV/AIDS. Gladis de Bonilla, director of the government's national AIDS program, called the measure "unfortunate" and said her office plans to "draft the law's accompanying regulations in a way that minimizes the risk that the article be used as a license for discrimination." However, she said the larger issue should be to "raise awareness among employees and not let everything depend on changing an article. We can change the article but that won't change people's attitudes" (Christian Science Monitor, 2/22).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.