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Sunday 24 February 2008

Australia: Western Australia proposes new public health laws to detain HIV-positive people who 'put others at risk'

A proposed change to Public Health law in the State of Western Australia would allow people with HIV to be detained and forced to undergo medical treatment.

WA's Public Health executive director, Tarun Weeramanthri, used recent concerns over a sex worker who was named and shamed by health officials in the Australian Capital Territory, to argue that these changes were a good thing.

Ironically, Health Consumers Council executive director, Michelle Kosky, is also for the changes. She believes that the new law would provide HIV-positive individuals with more rights, because for the first time, it allowed people detained under these laws to be able to appeal to the State Administrative Tribunal.

Full story from The Sunday Times (of Australia) below:

Disease carriers may be detained without charge
By Anthony Decegle
February 24, 2008 01:00am
Article from: The Sunday Times

PEOPLE carrying dangerous diseases and sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV, could be detained without charge and forced to undergo medical treatment under legal changes.

A new public health Bill is set to replace the existing law, which is nearly 100 years old, and give the The Western Australian Health Department powers to deal swiftly with individuals who it suspects pose a threat to the community.

Those affected could be banned from venues such as nightclubs, public baths or bars and have to submit to supervision or face the threat of a $50,000 fine. They could also be forced to take antibiotics.

If passed, the new law would replace the WA Health Act 1911 which, according to State Government literature, has "significant limitations in regard to its application to people who knowingly expose others to the risk of HIV infection".

Public Health executive director Tarun Weeramanthri said the deliberate spreading of sexual diseases was a real threat.

The Health Department was forced to put out an urgent warning earlier this month after a 41-year-old male sex worker infected with HIV was charged by police in the Australian Capital Territory.

The sex worker previously lived in WA.

"It is believed that the man may have had unsafe sex with clients in the ACT and other jurisdictions, including WA," Communicable Disease Control director Gary Dowse said.

"It is believed some of the people contacted may have been WA residents and it is possible that other persons in WA may have had contact with the man in the past."

Dr Weeramanthri said the Public Health Bill clarified the terms for dealing with people who had infectious diseases.

"The old act gives certain powers, but doesn't say exactly under what circumstances you may apply them," he said.

"This Bill clarifies the range of circumstances in which someone might act."

Dr Weeramanthri said the Bill was based on a principle of precaution; officials could act on suspicions faster.

"If you think there is a serious risk in the intermediate to long term, even though you may not have all of the evidence right now, it's ethical and prudent to act on the risk," he said.

"You can't just use the lack of definitive evidence as an excuse for not acting. You use common sense."

Public Health Association national president Mike Daube said the Bill would modernise public health legislation.

"It ensures that the health of the community is properly protected," he said. "This is much better than trying to work off legislation that was written long before HIV was even dreamed of."

The Health Department refused to reveal the number of people with an STD infection who were being monitored.

Health Consumers Council executive director Michelle Kosky said the new Bill would provide people with more rights. For the first time, these individuals would be able to appeal to the State Administrative Tribunal.



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