NSW’s leading HIV organisation, ACON, has condemned moves by NSW Labor to introduce a Bill to enforce mandatory testing of individuals whose bodily fluids come into contact with emergency services personnel, such as police officers.
Announced today by NSW Opposition Leader Jodi McKay, NSW Labor intends to give notice of a Bill that introduces mandatory testing in NSW.
ACON has strongly opposed moves to introduce mandatory disease testing of people as it is ineffective in reducing harm or risk to people involved in potential exposure incidents. In the lead up to the NSW state election in March 2019, ACONcanvassed major parties on whether they opposed mandatory testing and NSW Labor affirmed their opposition, adding “we have no plans to change the current law”.
ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill said: “Mandatory testing is a confused and poorly regulated policy in some other jurisdictions, is not based on any evidence of occupational transmission of disease, is rejected by the NSW Australian Medical Association as ineffective, and it represents a broken election promise.
“This move undermines a clear process the NSW Government has undertaken to receive and assess submissions on this issue following the distribution of the Department of Justice Options Paper in 2018. This Options Paper was circulated in response to a 2017 NSW Parliamentary Committee Inquiry into violence against emergency services personnel. The NSW Government has yet to respond to this Options Paper.”
ACON has been in an ongoing contact with relevant NSW Government Departments and some members of the NSW Parliament regarding the issue of mandatory testing – most recently when, in partnership with the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine, the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations and six other leading HIV and blood-borne virus (BBV) organisations, we put forward a policy position paper in October 2018.
“We strongly believe in the importance of the wellbeing and safety of emergency service personnel. We agree they must be protected as much as is reasonably possible in a high-level occupational risk environment,” Mr Parkhill said. “However, there are other ways to manage anxiety and risks for BBVs, rather than resorting to legislation that gives police the power to mandatorily test alleged offenders – which is an approach that goes against expert advice, lacks an evidence base and relies on 30-year old notions of HIV and other BBVs.
“Punitive laws based on outdated misconceptions and myths about how HIV and other BBVs are transmitted, and which perpetuate stigma and discrimination, do not need to be introduced during a time when HIV notifications are at historic lows in NSW, when HIV is a treatable and manageable condition, and when inroads are being made into ending HIV stigma.
“NSW Labor’s proposal has no basis in medical evidence. Further, BBVs have a varied and at times extended window period for the detection of a transmission and as such, testing the source of exposure is not an effective method for gaining ‘peace of mind’ of one’s own test results.”
Advances in prevention and treatment of HIV mean that police have access to treatments that effectively prevent the transmission of the virus, and these treatments are prescribed by doctors who are trained in identifying potential risk.
Furthermore, these planned laws will run the risk of violating best-practice testing guidelines. The recent report compiled by the National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS released in September 2019, The System Is Broken, highlights the complexity of introducing mandatory testing laws and the discrepancies between these laws in Australian jurisdictions.
The report highlights that advances in prevention and treatment of HIV mean that transmission of the virus is extremely unlikely, noting that there have been no occupational transmissions in Australia for 17 years. The report also mentions that the implementation of such laws does not reduce the risk of transmission or affect the treatment pathway for individuals who may be exposed to HIV, and that in some cases, decisions relating to transmission risk are made by non-experts.
NSW Labor’s move also goes against a policy position of the NSW Australian Medical Association which states: “Universal compulsory testing…cannot be justified on epidemiological or other public health grounds”.
Mr Parkhill added: “Mandatory testing would violate state and national guidelines that indicate testing should be voluntary except in exceptional circumstances. Given that saliva is not considered a risk for BBV, this act would not cross the threshold for mandatory testing under current policy settings in Australia.
“Mandatory disease testing of individuals infringes on the human rights of individuals, and increases community stigmatisation of people living with HIV, Hepatitis B and C.
“We strongly urge the Opposition Leader and NSW Labor to reconsider the introduction of testing laws as it has the potential to further exacerbate stigma and discrimination not only of people living with HIV, but also marginalised populations including people living with mental illness, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, people who are homeless, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, sex workers and people who use drugs – communities that already face disproportionate discrimination on the basis of these attributes,” Mr Parkhill said.
“We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this issue and its related medical and policy context with the NSW Opposition Leader, as she has done with the NSW Police Association and Health Services Union.”