Watch On HIV Migrants

Watch on HIV migrants

Annabel Stafford, Canberra
May 31, 2007

HIV-POSITIVE migrants will have to report to health authorities within a month of arriving in Australia or risk having their visas cancelled, the immigration and health ministers have advised Prime Minister John Howard.

State health authorities might also be alerted to HIV-positive migrants moving into their jurisdiction as the immigration and health departments weigh up this option against privacy considerations.

And the Health Department will audit state and territory guidelines for dealing with people who engage in risky behaviour and knowingly expose others to HIV, The Age has learned.

This could foreshadow Canberra calling for national health guidelines to allow authorities to keep track of people's risky behaviour.

The immigration and health departments have dismissed suggestions people with HIV should be prevented from entering Australia.

Last month, Mr Howard told a Melbourne radio station he did not believe HIV-positive people should be allowed into the country, but would seek more counsel on the issue. He was responding to Victorian Health Minister Bronwyn Pike, who had partly blamed a disproportionate rise in HIV cases on infected people moving to the state from interstate or overseas.

Ms Pike was under pressure over her department's failure to stop a Melbourne man allegedly trying to infect others with HIV.

The Age believes the immigration and health departments have said that people with HIV-AIDS should not be stopped from moving to Australia because HIV is not highly contagious, and blocking entry to people with HIV-AIDS could be seen as discriminatory.

The departments are believed to have advised Mr Howard that immigration has not had a big impact on HIV infection in Australia. In 2005, just 2 per cent of 928 infections were contracted abroad, and about half of these were Australians or New Zealanders.

HIV-AIDS should not be added to the list of conditions that prevent someone being allowed to immigrate to Australia, they are believed to have advised Mr Howard. There should be no change to current screening procedures, they say.

Anyone over 15 who is applying for permanent residence is tested for HIV, but this is generally for the purpose of costing their health care. Temporary visa applicants are not generally tested unless, say, they plan to find employment as a health worker.

HIV-positive migrants sign a health undertaking, making them attend a health clinic for monitoring and treatment. The Age believes there is little monitoring.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship wants to strengthen the undertakings, which apply to other conditions such as tuberculosis, by monitoring compliance. People will have to provide proof they have reported to a health authority or clinic within a month of arriving. If they do not, they could be removed from the country.

The departments are investigating whether to change the law to allow the Federal Government to provide state health authorities with a person's HIV status.

The advice not to block immigrants or change screening procedures was welcomed by Alex Wodak, director of drug and alcohol services at Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital. He has had a long involvement with public health responses to HIV-AIDS.


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