Community health organisation ACON is among expert stakeholders condemning legislation by the New South Wales Government to introduce mandatory HIV testing.
The Mandatory Disease Testing Bill (2020) will enforce compulsory testing of people whose bodily fluids come into contact with frontline workers.
Health experts say that the new law will not only be ineffective but also cause harm to marginalised communities, Out in Perth has reported.
ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill said that while worker safety was important, regulations must be based on evidence.
“We believe that those putting forward this bill to mandatorily test people are doing so as a well-meaning but misguided gesture of care for emergency services personnel,” said Parkhill.
“The concern for frontline workers is commendable and shared by all of us.
“However, this bill does not afford real protections for our frontline workers – our current policies and procedures do, as evidenced by the fact that there has not been an incidence of occupational transmission of HIV for emergency service workers in more than 15 years.
“This bill is not in line with evidence [or] consistent with multiple state, national, and international policies and guidelines.
“It exacerbates unfounded fear, and it does nothing to educate and inform our workers about the real risks associated with bodily fluids.”
Parkhill said that existing laws and procedures work and that other ways exist to reduce fear and risk for frontline workers.
“We did not resort to mandatory testing in the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the 1980s and 1990s,” he said.
“We certainly don’t need to now, noting the excellent progress we are making in driving down transmissions, and irrefutable evidence that effective treatment prevents onward transmission.”
He said that New South Wales should “feel incredibly proud of its efforts to contain epidemics and pandemics”.
“We have done this by following the evidence, trusting people with information, and supporting frontline workers while they did their job – not by ignoring science, inciting fear, and enacting policy that marginalises already vulnerable people,” Parkhill said.
“This bill is the antithesis of evidence-based policy and counter to our experience with pandemics and epidemics long brought under control by New South Wales using evidence, education, and a supportive approach.
“Force, criminalisation, misinformation, and fear [are] not the answer.”
Parkhill said that the bill represented inappropriate criminalisation of a health issue and called for an inquiry into its potential harms to marginalised groups.
Health experts have consistently condemned the criminalisation of HIV as counterproductive and based on “moral panic”.