Australian Health Minister Abbott Approves Plan To Genetically Track HIV Cases
Australian Health Minister Tony Abbott earlier this month approved a plan to develop a genetic profile of HIV in people living with the virus nationwide, Australia's The Age reports. According to The Age, the plan, called the HIV Epidemiology Project, will examine the epidemiology of HIV strains in the country, including cases among men who have sex with men, injection drug users, and migrants and refugees entering the country. In addition, the plan will examine the movement of HIV-positive people across the nation, as well as high-risk behavior that could be contributing to the increasing number of HIV cases in the country.
Andrew Grulich, head of the HIV Epidemiology and Prevention Program at the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, said it would be difficult and controversial to map HIV transmission across the country. Grulich added that genetic mapping might be helpful in "investigating particular individuals who are alleged to be behaving irresponsibly" but that it likely would not be "useful" at the population level. He also said that the plan likely is the first of its kind worldwide and that genetic mapping has been used only in criminal cases or to determine a strain's resistance to antiretroviral drugs.
Jamie Gardiner -- vice president the civil rights group Liberty, which is based in Victoria, Australia -- said the plan would undermine the country's public health approach to HIV. He said that it is "hard to imagine that ethics approval would be granted" for the plan, adding that it "is not about curing or prevention of illness" but about the "pursuit of inappropriate criminal justice objectives." According to Abbott, the plan was not designed to target individuals who might be responsible for spreading the virus for criminal prosecution but to influence HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment campaigns. New HIV cases in Australia increased from 656 recorded cases in 2000 to 930 recorded cases in 2005, The Age reports (Medew, The Age, 4/28).