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


by PASCALE BONNEFOY and ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO The New York Times
November 13th, 2008

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.





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