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HIV sufferers tested without consent

Some Swiss discovered they were infected with HIV without knowing they had been tested for it


The legal rights of the 20,000 people with HIV/Aids in Switzerland are being repeatedly flouted, according to a new report.

The study, conducted by the Swiss National Science Foundation, says confidential medical information is being disclosed without their knowledge and that they suffer discrimination in the workplace.

A poll of 783 people living with HIV/Aids found that ten per cent learnt they were infected with the virus, following tests carried out without their knowledge.

Almost 20 per cent said that news of their HIV status had been passed on to other people - family, friends or employers - without their consent.

Bern University's Christoph Zenger, co-author of the study, told swissinfo that his team was astonished by the findings.

"Information for hospitals and doctors on the legal and ethical requirements for HIV testing has to be improved," he said.

No consent

In the light of the revelations, the Swiss Aids Federation is demanding an immediate review of HIV testing procedure in Switzerland.

"Informed consent must be an absolute standard," insisted spokesman Christoph Schlatter.

"An HIV test is a big thing and people have to know what is going on because there are a lot of consequences they have to be aware of.

"Permission must be sought before testing, and the fact that this isn't the case begs the question: 'What can we do to give the medical personnel the information they need?'"

The study's co-author added that employers and insurance companies needed to be made aware of the requirements of data protection.

"We have data protection legislation but we are also proposing some changes in federal and cantonal law," said Zenger.

Out of work

On average, it takes an unemployed person with HIV/Aids about 13 months to find a new job as opposed to five months for the rest of the population.

"A lot of employers think an HIV-positive person is a health risk for their company and that isn't true," said Schlatter.

"The Swiss Aids Federation is trying to tell them that it's no problem employing an HIV-positive person."

The study concluded that existing labour laws were adequate and that there was no need for specific legislation.

However, Schlatter argues that discrimination in the workplace against people with HIV is difficult to prove.

"This is a very, very difficult thing to fight against," he said.

The study also revealed that many people living with HIV/Aids were unaware of their legal rights or their entitlements to benefits.

swissinfo, Vincent Landon

Key facts

Globally, five million people were newly infected with HIV in 2002.
There were 3.1 million Aids-related deaths - over 8,000 a day.
42 million people were living with HIV/Aids at the end of 2002.
Some 20,000 people are living with HIV in Switzerland.
There have been 5,200 Aids-related deaths in Switzerland.

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