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Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Australia: Canberra public health officials name (and shame) HIV-positive male sex worker

Public health officials in Canberra have taken the unusual step of holding a press conference to announce that a male sex worker who was charged with "knowingly" transmitting an (unnamed) sexually transmitted infection earlier this month is HIV-positive.

It is unclear from the reports whether the 41 year-old man is, in fact, charged with criminal HIV exposure or transmission; rather, the Canberra health department is appealing for former clients to come forward, even though they already have a list of 250 phone numbers obtained from the man, which they said they would be calling after the press conference.

"It is a very unusual step to take to mention the diagnosis of this kind in the interest of privacy but we will be calling people this afternoon and discussing this diagnosis with them so we know that it will be in the public domain today so therefore I'll share that with you," ACT Chief Health Officer Charles Guest told the press conference.

Of the two news reports online so far, ABC News online's also includes a photo of the man.

To me, this kind of 'contact tracing' – where an HIV-positive individual is named and his picture publicised – seems more like a 'fishing expedition' than an ethical public health measure.

These are the reports from The Herald Sun and ABC News online.

Sex worker exposes 250 to HIV

HEALTH officials are trying to contact 250 people who may have been exposed to HIV by a sex worker.

Hector Scott, 41, of Kingston appeared in ACT Magistrates Court earlier this month charged with knowingly infecting someone with a sexually transmitted disease and failing to register as a sex worker.

At the time, the details of the disease were not known.

ACT Chief Health Officer Charles Guest said today Mr Scott had Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

"It is a very unusual step to take to mention the diagnosis of this kind in the interest of privacy but we will be calling people this afternoon and discussing this diagnosis with them so we know that it will be in the public domain today so therefore I'll share that with you," Dr Guest said at a press conference.

"HIV positive since 1999"

The health department first became aware of Mr Scott's actions on December 20 last year when notified by another jurisdiction. The department alerted police within 24 hours.

But Mr Scott was not issued with a public health order - to stop working as a prostitute - until January 4, when he was arrested.

Dr Guest said there was evidence Mr Scott had been HIV positive for some years, possibly since 1999.

During 2007 he advertised himself as a prostitute in Canberra media using the names "Adam" and "Josh" but was unregistered as a sex worker.

Could be less

"Bear in mind please 250 is just the number of phone numbers and he may have been phoning family friends, businesses - there are all sorts of other reasons," Dr Guest said.

"That may be a very inflated figure of the number of people that he had sex with or unprotected sex with."

Dr Guest would not say how the contacts were obtained and said many of the phone numbers being used were mobiles so it was unclear whether all of the potential victims were from the ACT.

"We will be exploring that nature of their contact very delicately with them - we have skilled counsellors and clinicians involved in this process," he said.

Counselling

The people contacted will be invited to be counselled and tested for sexually-transmitted infections.

Dr Guest said the whole situation was just a reminder of the importance of safe sex.

"There is a general message here about safe sex and entering into casual sexual relationships - assume that safe sex, protection, use of condoms is essential."

Mr Scott is due to reappear in the ACT Magistrates Court for a mention on February 7.


Charged sex worker has HIV: ACT Health

ACT Health has confirmed Canberra sex worker Hector Scott has HIV.

The 41-year-old from Kingston faced court earlier this month charged with knowingly transmitting a sexually transmitted disease and failing to register as a sex worker.

It is believed Scott may have contracted the disease in 1999.

Authorities have a list of 250 phone numbers of people who may have been in contact with the sex worker, but they say not all are at risk.

ACT Chief Health Officer Doctor Charles Guest says counsellors have started calling people on the list after receiving very few calls to a helpline it set up.

"The extraordinary effort that we're taking to communicate with people who may have been in contact with the sex worker has led us now to start calling people and advising them to be tested and explaining what the consequences of the testing would be," he said.

ACT Health has notified other states and territory authorities to help track down Scott's interstate clients.

New Zealand police have also joined the investigation after Scott spent a week there over Christmas.

Anyone who may have had contact with the man, who advertised under the names Adam and Josh, is urged to call the hotline on xxx xxxx xxx.

Scott is due back in court next month.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

He hasn't been charged with criminal transmission. Early media reports mentioned that they didn't have anyone (yet) who had been infected.
He's been charged with 2 counts of commercial sexual services while having an STD (which is HIV) which is unfortunately called "knowingly infecting" while having nothing to do with risk behaviour or actually infecting someone. He's facing 2 counts, 1 each for the two working names he used. See the link for actual wording.
http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/act/consol_act/pa1992205/s25.html
Unfortunately, the media reports that came first said that he'd be charged with "knowingly infecting someone" which mean all the media got worse and worse, accusing him of infecting hundreds. Even New Zealand put out an alert because he went there for christmas, claiming that if he's being charged for "knowingly infecting someone" in Australia, then they'd better warn their citizens too.. I dont think they realised that he had'nt been charged with that!

neville said...

When it comes to sex work the only possible distinction is that of a financial transaction. If people can legally have sex with HIV then why can't they do sex work. Better they have their health monitored by a medico than not at all.

Sex workers have a distinctly good history of safe sexual practices in Australia. There is room for including HIV positive people into the equation.

A great example might be that HIV specific sex workers can cater to the needs of HIV positive people.

I have heard of an underground HIV positive sex worker catering to HIV positive clients. Don't really know if this anecdote is true or not but it rings true in the circles I have moved in.

In broader terms and reading a lot of literature on the net around transmission and people being charged there is little attention given to the significant underlying reasons around why some HIV positive people are engaging in condomless sex without disclosing their status.

Some examples might be, 'it feels great', attached to that is the grief and loss associated with infection, the burden of such a responsibility (ie disclosure), anger, (don't forget also that HIV negative people behaved in some way that now makes them "the other")

Therefore HIV positive people have more to offer than just a risk to others.

They can offer their experiences of being infected and how best to manage the issues, be it socially, legally, or personally.

In closing I propose that there is a clear and useful role for HIV positive sex workers in a growing population of HIV positive people.

They can meet the same needs as provided by other sex workers, and in fact meet specialised needs for those infected with HIV.

A bit of lateral thinking in social policy goes a long way.

I'd be interested to know others thoughts on the subject. Nev

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