Amnesty International condemns 'misguided' HIV testing

Amnesty International issued a statement on Thursday condemning a campaign by Greek authorities to identify sex workers with HIV following a law making testing compulsory for prostitutes.

In under a month of testing of hundreds of prostitutes working at illegal brothels or on the streets of Athens, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO) has found 31 to be infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

In accordance with the new law, the women have been charged with causing grievous bodily harm and their photographs have been published by the police in a controversial move that the Health Ministry defends as being in the interest of public health.

“Publication of names, photographs and positive HIV status is a fundamental breach of confidentiality and exposes sex workers to stigma and violence,” Amnesty International said in its statement.

“The measures adopted by the Greek authorities are completely misguided and ineffective,” it added.

Meanwhile, a hotline set up by KEELPNO in late April has received over 6,000 calls from men admitting to having had unprotected sex with the prostitutes whose photographs were made public. Tests run on over 100 of them by last week revealed five to be HIV positive, with the ministry mulling whether to make their names and faces public as well.

At a press conference last week, Health Minister Andreas Loverdos said that testing would continue at the same rate with the aim of “significantly curbing” the virus by the end of the month. He said that “AIDS has spread beyond the ghettos and entered Greek society” and that his ministry would persevere in fighting it.

The international human rights group’s statement joins complaints made by the Greek Ombudsman, who said that public health concerns cannot violate the rights to privacy of people infected with HIV, as well as the General Secretariat for Gender Equality.

“Amnesty International calls on the Greek authorities to take appropriate measures and provide those individuals found to be HIV positive with counseling and information and to encourage the voluntary counseling and testing of those who are unaware of their HIV status,” the statement said. 

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