Health experts dedicated to ending the transmission of HIV and other blood-borne viruses have reiterated serious concerns with proposed laws that will enforce the mandatory blood testing of individuals whose bodily fluids come into contact with frontline workers in NSW.
Responding to a report of a parliamentary inquiry into the Mandatory Disease Testing Bill 2020 released last week, ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill once again said the legislation is unnecessary and counterproductive, and it will further exacerbate unfounded fears and anxieties of frontline workers.
“We have worked with community, public health, medical and legal partners to provide extensive evidence and oppose this Bill over the past 12 months,” Parkhill said. “We remain steadfast in our position that the Bill is unnecessary – NSW has proven our public health response is highly effective at keeping workers safe – and this Bill is based on outdated fear, rather than evidence. Time and time again, we have reiterated the scientific fact that HIV simply does not get passed on through saliva or spitting.
“Yet, if passed into law, this Bill will give police the power to force people who come into contact with frontline workers to get tested for HIV and other blood borne virus, even in cases of spitting, which carry no risk of HIV transmission.
“We fully endorse evidence-based public health measures to protect frontline workers from occupational risks of HIV and other diseases transmission. The current Bill will not do that. It will not protect frontline workers,” Parkhill said.
“This current Bill hands decision-making and assessment of risk over to untrained, non-experts. It is not based on evidence and will only perpetuate fears, uncertainty, and anxiety about how to properly manage exposures to bodily fluids. Its operation has the potential to expose health staff drawing blood, without patient consent, to risks of aggression and potentially violence.
“There is no evidence of any cases of occupational transmission since 2002, and never in a police officer,” Parkhill said. “In short, no demonstrated need for this current Bill exists and, in pursuing it, we put much at risk, including placing an unnecessary burden on the NSW public health system.”
Parkhill also took aim at the Inquiry for failing to include any recommendations that addressed the public health and civil liberty concerns of experts.
“Evidence from those with expertise in the transmission of HIV and other blood-borne viruses was extensive and unified. That fact is: not a single expert supports the Bill.
“Yet, despite our own, and other organisations, putting forward practical and workable amendments to the Bill, the Inquiry failed to include any meaningful recommendations to ensure a public health framework governs the mandatory testing scheme, and aligns with public health objectives,” Parkhill said.
“Further, no recommendations were put forward in relation to enhancing the learning and development needs of police and other frontline workers in relation to the management of blood borne viruses. If NSW had in place a sustained education program for police officers and other frontline personnel, it would have negated calls for this Bill being put forward in the first place,” Parkhill said.
ACON is urging parliamentarians to adopt its suggested amendments, all of which centre on ensuring that mandatory testing only occurs where there is an assessment of actual risk of transmission by public health experts.
“The inquiry has clearly shown police and corrections staff are not the best placed to conduct health risk assessments – decisions to carry out mandatory blood testing orders should sit with the NSW Chief Health Officer,” Parkhill said. “Considering the impacts of the Bill on civil liberties, no arbitrary detention should occur, and proper appeals are required.
“We implore parliamentarians, in their deliberations, to consider these amendments and do what is best for public health, frontline workers, and those people who will be vulnerable to having their liberty taken away through this Bill.
“The health of workers and all people in NSW should not be a partisan issue and we strongly encourage people of good conscience who wish to do no harm, to use their influence to support sensible and important changes to the Mandatory Disease Testing Bill. We are heartened by comments from various Members of the NSW Parliament across the political spectrum that this Bill needs to be improved and under the guidance of the Chief Health Officer and our excellent health system.
“It is incumbent on Parliamentarians in NSW to formulate evidence-based legislation when responding to public health issues, as has been the case for COVID-19 and, up until now, for HIV and other blood-borne viruses,” Parkhill said.
ADDITIONAL QUOTES FROM HIV AND OTHER BLOOD-BORNE VIRUSES ORGANISATIONS
Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) CEO Alexis Apostolellis:
“Mandatory testing threatens to undermine NSW’s world-class response to blood-borne viruses by making BBV transmission a criminal issue, rather than a public health issue. If we are going to have mandatory testing laws in NSW, we must ensure they are evidence-based, and in the hands of the medical professionals who understand the science. Testing must be justified by an informed, expert understanding of how blood-borne viruses are transmitted, prevented and treated.”
Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) Acting CEO Heath Paynter:
“Australia’s HIV prevention and treatment effort is effective because it is informed by evidence rather than stigma. These proposed laws depart from that principle. Mandatory disease testing is not informed by the latest medical science and inflames inaccurate and unhelpful stereotypes. This legislation is counterproductive and should be rejected.”
National Association for People With HIV Australia (NAPWHA) Executive Director Aaron Cogle
“HIV positive people do not pose a threat to the HIV negative population. These laws are unnecessary and they are not evidence based. They only serve to further stigmatise already marginalised communities.”
Positive Life NSW CEO Jane Costello:
“The passing of the Mandatory Disease Testing Bill 2020 in its current form is detrimental to NSW’s strong evidence-based track record and success as a world leader in HIV prevention, and its setting of bold uncompromising benchmarks to drive down NSW BBV notification rates, including HIV. As it stands, the Bill only contributes to the myths and misconceptions around HIV transmission, that then exacerbates stigma and discrimination in our communities and does nothing to protect our frontline workers in NSW.”
HIV/AIDS Legal Centre Principal Solicitor Alexandra Stratigos:
“The introduction of the Mandatory Disease Testing Bill 2020 would see the government turn its back on the states world-leading HIV response. The legislation disregards widely accepted evidence that testing without informed consent is contrary to public health outcomes and is inconsistent with basic human rights principles. Furthermore, the legislation fuels the spread of misinformation about HIV and other blood borne viruses, which causes unnecessary panic while offering no actual support to emergency service workers.”
Bobby Goldsmith Foundation CEO Nick Lawson:
“The Mandatory Disease Testing Bill 2020 is retrogressive policy reform built on deleterious assertions that will reinforce misinformation and further marginalise and vilify people living with HIV. We understand the importance of protecting frontline workers and prioritising their health and wellbeing, however, introducing mandatory testing legislation founded on falsehoods will fail to ensure their safety and will only bolster erroneous fear and foster HIV stigma. We believe evidence-based laws rooted in education and understanding is fundamental in supporting vulnerable communities and frontline workers.
“We strongly advocate the NSW Government to reform the Mandatory Disease Testing Bill and acknowledge medical and scientific based evidence pertaining to the transmission of BBVs.”
Hepatitis NSW CEO Steven Drew:
“The Bill will not set out what it claims to want to achieve. It is unnecessary, dismisses evidence-based practice, is at odds with NSW’s long, proud and successful history of being a leader in public health responses. It also ignores the science as to the level of risk of transmission of hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
“Hepatitis NSW is working towards a world free of viral hepatitis. We are part of concerted effort by the community, government and health sectors to eliminate both hepatitis B and hepatitis C in NSW by 2028. It is hard, grafting work to reach our audience, however efforts to date have resulted in an ongoing decline in prevalence of hepatitis B and hepatitis C. The bottom line is this: both the hepatitis B and hepatitis C virus is a numerically small and ever diminishing health risk in NSW.
“You can’t contract hep B or hep C through saliva. There is no scientific or medical basis for including saliva as a bodily fluid for the purposes of this Bill. It is also unconscionable that the legislation is proposed to apply to young people under the age of 18. It is essential any legislation is firmly constructed and premised on evidence-based public health management principles, with authority exercised by medical experts only.”
National Users and AIDS Association (NUAA):
“Australia’s hugely successful response to HIV is based on evidence, partnership and working with communities. The proposed MDT legislation represents a significant backward step. The legislation is not evidence based and NUAA believes it has the potential to cause significant harm. In order to reduce harm, testing orders must be done by a health professional – ideally the Chief Health Officer – and restrict this testing to people aged 18 and over. We need to ensure that this legislation does not further erode the right of marginalised communities to safe and appropriate health care.”
Family Planning NSW CEO Adj. Prof Ann Brassil:
“The Bill as it currently stands does not afford real protection for frontline workers. The current NSW policies and procedures already and adequately provide these protections. The introduction of mandatory disease testing poses significant concern in relation to informed consent for medical procedures, questions best practice approaches to HIV and other blood borne virus prevention, testing and treatment, and further embeds misinformation around HIV and other blood borne virus transmission and risk.”
David Alexander, Media and Communications | 0428 477 042 | [email protected]
Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine
Benjamin Riley | 0401 267 024 | [email protected]
Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations
Levi Joule | 0481 112 074
National Association for People With HIV Australia
Aaron Cogle, Executive Director | 02 8568 030
Positive Life NSW
Jane Costello, CEO | 1800 245 677 | [email protected]
HIV/AIDS Legal Centre
Alexandra Stratigos, Principal Solicitor | 02 9206 2060 | [email protected]
Bobby Goldsmith Foundation
Nicholas Lawson, CEO | (02) 9283 8666 | [email protected]
Steven R Drew, CEO | 0402 518 285 | [email protected]
National Users and AIDS Association
Mary Harrod, CEO | (02) 8354 7300
Family Planning NSW
Family Planning NSW Media | 0402 880 653 | [email protected]