Hundreds in Chile not told of positive HIV tests
SANTIAGO, Chile — Chile is scrambling to reach people who could be unknowingly spreading AIDS.
Public health services failed to tell 512 people that they tested positive for HIV, and private-sector services failed to inform an estimated 1,700, Health Minister Alvaro Erazo told lawmakers Thursday.
Chile’s public health service said some patients provided incorrect addresses, but in about half the cases, there is no evidence anyone tried to reach them. "There is no justification for that," said Erazo, who was summoned to Congress after the scandal forced his predecessor to resign.
Now Chile is launching an intense campaign to locate and inform the patients. Erazo said it would be done with the most confidentiality possible. But it appears some health workers have not gotten that message.
In Puerto Montt, a man who refused to be identified by name said two health officials arrived at his workplace in an ambulance and, in the presence of his boss, told him he is HIV-positive.
"I lost my job and my girlfriend" as a result, the man told Radio Cooperativa of Santiago. "My family is broken."
Of 18,500 AIDS cases registered in Chile since 1984, 5,710 people have died of the disease, Erazo said. According to the Health Ministry, 62 percent of the cases have been homosexual or bisexual men, but infections are increasing among heterosexuals.
Some experts blame the spread on conservative sexual mores that have prevented sexual education in Chile’s schools and hindered public health campaigns.
Conservative groups persuaded courts this year to block government distribution of free morning-after pills to girls as young as 14 without reporting to their parents. And a government campaign to promote condom use suffered when two television networks refused to air the ads.
"There is a great general negligence," said Marco Becerra, a social worker who leads Asosida, an organization that coordinates AIDS prevention efforts by private groups in Chile. "Argentina and Brazil have mandatory sexual education at schools from early grades, while here we are still discussing it."
"Liberalization of sexual behavior in Chile is no greater than in other countries, but ours is a hypocrite society," he added. "The same television stations that rejected the condom campaign show semi-naked women all the time."