Plan To Track HIV Positive Visitors

Plan to track HIV-positive visitors

Annabel Stafford, Canberra
The Age (Melbourne)
May 11, 2007

HIV-POSITIVE visitors to the country could have their movements monitored or be prevented from coming altogether, under policy options being considered by the Government.

Prime Minister John Howard has written to his immigration and health ministers asking them for advice on whether HIV/AIDS poses a public health risk and on the public health implications of letting HIV-positive people into the country.

When Mr Howard said last month that he would consider stopping HIV-positive people coming to the country unless there were humanitarian reasons to let them in, his comments were dismissed by some as populist.

But this latest move suggests there is a possibility those infected could find it harder to come to Australia, or, if they can come, to move about the country without having to report their movements.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews yesterday confirmed the Department of Immigration and Citizenship was preparing advice for the Prime Minister.

The department was “looking at what requirements we have under different visa classes (for HIV testing)” and whether these need to be expanded, she said.

People wanting to become permanent residents are currently tested for HIV, but some on student or business visas are not, she said. When people do test positive for HIV, their immigration is automatically reviewed by health authorities who look at whether they will pose a significant cost to the health system or whether they can support themselves. But the final decision on whether they can come to Australia is at the discretion of the Immigration Minister. State authorities are not necessarily notified if an HIV-positive person is moving to their jurisdiction.

The Age believes that the departments are also investigating whether different government agencies should be notified of the movements of HIV-positive immigrants. But privacy issues will be considered as well as the rights of people to travel freely without details of their health status being made broadly available, The Age believes.

A source said the review was not considering a broad ban of all HIV-positive people, but better screening and monitoring and ways of monitoring or blocking those that set off “warning bells”.

Mr Howard's comments and the subsequent policy review were sparked by comments from Victorian Health Minister Bronwyn Pike, who last month attributed part of the increase in HIV infections in Victoria in recent years to HIV-positive people moving to the state from other states or overseas.

Ms Pike was under pressure after revelations that her department had failed to stop Melbourne man Michael John Neal from allegedly trying to deliberately infect others with HIV, despite being warned several times about the risk he posed.

Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott has now asked a committee of state and federal chief health officers to consider national guidelines for dealing with such cases. But the policy options being looked at by the immigration, health and possibly other departments, go much further.

Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations spokesman Don Baxter said yesterday that “infections arising from short-term visa holders have had a minuscule impact” and screening of tourists would adversely affect the industry. But he said the federation was most concerned about the “false sense of security” screening conveyed that “people with HIV will be kept out therefore it's OK to have unsafe sex with people from other countries”.


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