Washington Post Examines HIV/AIDS Situation in Chile
The Washington Post on Saturday examined the "ballooning number of people in Chile who were not told they had tested positive for HIV and therefore were denied potentially lifesaving treatment." Officials earlier this month announced that about 512 people nationwide have not been informed by the public health system that they tested HIV-positive and that more than 1,000 people have not been told by private sector services that they carry the virus. The situation has led to the resignation of former Health Minister Maria Soledad Barria, plans to reform the country's notification system and a "recent warning that the government could declare a 'health emergency' if the hundreds of people who still do not know that they have the virus are not found and told quickly," according to the Post. In addition, the situation has "prompted a vigorous debate about public health, sexuality and the politics of HIV," the Post reports.
"Who is responsible for this situation?" Teresa Valdes, a sociologist and board member of a women's organization, wrote in an opinion piece posted to the El Mostrador Web site. She added, "Is it the official of the laboratory that delivered the result, the health center where the test took place ... or a society that denies sexual diversity, that has discriminated for years against homosexuals and that drapes a cloak of silence over the sexuality of its members."
Marcela Contreras, a hematologist, told the Cooperativa radio network that the situation was "out of proportion" and could affect a quality blood service system in the country. "There is a responsibility of the patients that went to take the HIV test because many of them did not give their correct addresses or telephone numbers," Contreras said. According to the Post, other people have said that the lack of timely notifications is a failure of Chile's health system. In addition, an editorial in La Nacion said that the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in the country contributed to the situation. "Sexual promiscuity is a reality that must be acknowledged, regardless of philosophical or religious views," the editorial said, adding, "Thus, prevention campaigns must be more explicit than they currently are when it comes to the risks and alternatives for protecting yourself against AIDS."
As the government "rushed to notify" those affected by the situation, its response "has also come under criticism," the Post reports. Some people have said that government workers arrived at their jobs and told them they were HIV-positive in front of their colleagues. In response to the situation, the government has named Anibal Hurtado as the new coordinator for the National AIDS Commission, and there are talks about introducing legislation to improve the HIV notification system. Hurtado also has suggested that police databases could be used to find and notify HIV-positive people. "It's always difficult to take responsibility," Hurtado said, adding, "But I want to take it" (Partlow, Washington Post, 11/22).