Chilean Lawmakers Call for Investigation of HIV/AIDS Situation
Chile's new health minister, Alvaro Erazo, on Thursday said that at least 512 people nationwide have not been informed by the public health system that they tested HIV-positive and that an additional 1,364 people have not been told by private sector services that they carry the virus, the New York Times reports. Erazo -- who was providing lawmakers with a report on the situation -- said that in about half of the cases, there was no evidence that health care workers had attempted to contact people who had tested HIV-positive. Erazo added, "There is no justification for that." According to Erazo, some of the notification problems resulted from a lack of coordination between the National AIDS Commission and the Ministry of Health. He added that epidemiological security "was not functioning" (Bonnefoy/Barrionuevo, New York Times, 11/14).
Chilean lawmakers on Wednesday called for an investigation into the growing situation in which the government has failed to notify people who tested HIV-positive, Reuters reports (Gardner, Reuters, 11/12). Chile's President Michelle Bachelet last month accepted the resignation of former Health Minister Maria Soledad Barria following an incident at a hospital in the city of Iquique in which Hospital officials did not notify people who had tested positive for the virus (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/30).
According to Cecilla Sepulveda, dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Chile, an estimated 40,000 people in the country are not aware of their HIV-positive status. The government has said that it is making a concerted effort to inform people who have tested HIV-positive of their status, and Erazo said that it will be done in as confidential a manner as possible. The Central Metropolitan Health Service in the capital of Santiago on Thursday announced that it will start an investigation into why 107 people in its jurisdiction were not notified of their HIV-positive status. According to the Times, results are expected in two weeks (New York Times, 11/14).
In reaction to the announcement, some lawmakers are urging the government to declare a health emergency. Juan Lobos, president of the health commission in the Lower House of Congress, said a "much deeper investigation into the health system" is needed. Lobos also called on all health service directors to submit resignations to Erazo.
Government Minister Francisco Vidal said Erazo is working to prevent a similar situation from occurring in the future. Vidal also said that Bachelet's administration has dismissed suggestions of a potential epidemic and is dealing with the situation.
According to Reuters, HIV/AIDS advocates have been "outraged" with the situation. Two groups -- Vivo Positivo and Asosida -- issued a joint statement that said, "Failing to adequately inform patients of the positive results of their HIV tests is not just a problem of management or human error but clearly goes against the law." The statement also said the failure to notify patients was the "worst sanitary crisis the country has faced in recent years" and a "flagrant violation of human rights and the right to life" (Reuters, 11/12).
The AP/Google.com reports that some experts blame an increase in HIV/AIDS cases in Chile on "conservative sexual mores that have prevented sexual education in Chile's schools and hindered public health campaigns," including two television networks' refusal to air advertisements in a government campaign to promote condom use (AP/Google.com, 11/13).