CHILE: Nearly 2,000 Carrying H.I.V. in Chile Were Not Notified

Publisher Name: 
The New York Times

Published: November 13, 2008

SANTIAGO, Chile
- Chile's health minister said Thursday that the country's public
health system had failed to notify at least 512 people that they were
infected with H.I.V., and that private-sector services did not inform an additional 1,364 that they were carrying the virus, which causes AIDS.

Speaking to lawmakers in
Santiago, the health minister, Álvaro Erazo, said that in about half of
the cases there was no evidence that anyone tried to reach the
patients. "There is no justification for that," Mr. Erazo told members
of Chile's Congress.

The health minister's admission came just
weeks after his predecessor, María Soledad Barría, was forced to resign
after revelations that a hospital in Iquique, in the north, had failed
to notify dozens of patients that they were H.I.V.-positive. Two people
in the hospital later died from complications of AIDS.

Mr. Erazo was summoned before Congress to give a report on the notification problems.

With Thursday's revelations, the scandal is deepening.

Mr. Erazo told the lawmakers that some of the notification problems resulted from a lack of coordination between the National AIDS Commission and the Health Ministry, and that epidemiological security "was not functioning."

The
Central Metropolitan Health Service in Santiago, the capital, said
Thursday that it would open an investigation into the causes of the 107
cases of patients' not being notified under its jurisdiction. It
expected to have results in two weeks.

Two groups dealing with
AIDS in Chile, Asosida, a coalition of nongovernmental groups, and Vivo
Positivo, said in a joint statement on Wednesday that the notifications
scandal was "the worst health crisis that the country has been through
in the last several years." The groups added that the negligence had
been "a flagrant violation of human rights and of the right to life."

Cecilia
Sepúlveda, the dean of the School of Medicine at the University of
Chile, estimated that about 40,000 people in Chile do not know that
they are infected with H.I.V.

Meanwhile, the government said
it was making an intense effort to locate and inform the patients of
their status. Mr. Erazo vowed it would be done in as confidential a
manner as possible.

But that did not appear to be happening in
every case. A 28-year-old man in Puerto Montt, a city south of the
capital, told Radio Cooperativa in Santiago that two health officials
came to his workplace in an ambulance two weeks ago and, in the
presence of his boss, told him he was H.I.V.-positive. The following
day, he said, his boss told him not to return to work.

Mr. Erazo,
responding on Thursday to the claims of the man from Puerto Montt, told
lawmakers that "clearly there is a legitimate concern about safeguards
and technical capabilities." If what the man said was true, he said,
"it would be disgraceful."

The brewing scandal is the latest
challenge for President Michelle Bachelet's center-left coalition
government, which has endured a series of protests and scandals in
recent months that have emboldened right-wing rivals before next year's
presidential race.

Pascale Bonnefoy reported from Santiago, and Alexei Barrionuevo from Rio de Janeiro.

AMP Section Name:Health
  • 116 Human Rights