Online Only: A frightening failure in Chile

Patients not told they have HIV

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Recently reported in the New York Times, at least 1,800 people in Chile were not notified that they tested HIV positive. The public health system failed to advise at least 512 people that they had tested positive for the virus, while the private-sector did not notify another 1,364. In about half of the cases, according to Chile's Health Minister Ãlvaro Erazo, no evidence was shown of efforts to contact the patients. His predecessor, Mari­a Soledad Barria, was urged to resign when it came to light that a hospital in north Chile had failed to inform many patients that they had tested positive for HIV. Two people later died in the same hospital from complications of AIDS.

Obviously this is a tragic, terrible mishap. At least 1,800 people in Chile have been living their lives not knowing that they may be spreading the HIV virus, probably increasing the number of people infected. This problem is compounded by why the patients were not notified of their test results. Erazo, forced by Congress to report on why no one was notified, disclosed that notification problems stemmed from a failure in co-ordination between the National AIDS commission and the Health Ministry, as well as that epidemiological security "was not functioning."

This is a serious issue. Epidemiological security "not functioning" means that if an epidemic broke out in Chile, the safety and notification of the population could not be guaranteed. Someone who had been recently tested for HIV and did not receive their results telling them they had tested positive would go on, living their life. In doing this, they could unknowingly spread the virus to more and more people in the time it would take for it to be evident they were infected. Some of these people who came into contact with the first individual could have been tested and also not notified of their results. The risk of a nation's epidemiological security not functioning is terrifying, but preventable.

A failure in co-ordination between a commission and the Health Ministry is also not a good reason not to notify several hundred people about their test results. If a patient undergoes an HIV test and it is positive, it's their right to know. When two groups dealing with AIDS, Asosida and Vivo Positivo, heard of this scandal, they called it the worst health crisis that the country had faced in the last several years and said that the failure to notify the patients was "a flagrant violation of human rights and of the right to life."

Seeing as, according to the Ministry of Health's National AIDS Commission, AIDS recently became the second leading cause of death for Chilean men in Santiago between age 20 and 44, failing to notify patients of their positive results presents the risk of this number becoming much larger. There are 8,000 reported cases of AIDS in Chile and an estimated 30,000 citizens are HIV positive. The Ministry of Health predicts that by 2010 AIDS will be Chile's leading cause of death. If this scandalous failure by the Health Ministry is left to continue, AIDS could be the leading cause of death this year.