Health minister reintroduces forced HIV testing

Detention and test measure brought back by Adonis Georgiadis

The brainchild of Pasok health minister Andreas Loverdos, the crackdown resulted in the detention and subsequent forced testing of women and the publication of their names, personal details and photographs in the media

Syntagma Square Syntagma Square A controversial measure that allows the police to detain people for the purpose of forced HIV tests has been reinstated by Adonis Georgiadis, in one of his first decisions as health minister. 

The measure, introduced by Pasok health minister Andreas Loverdos shortly before the May 2012 general election, resulted in the round-up and subsequent forced testing of hundreds of women. The 17 found to be HIV positive had their names, personal details and photographs published in the media, on the grounds of protecting public health.

The women, labelled as "prostitutes" (although there was no evidence that they were involved in sex work) and accused of being "health bombs", were kept in jail for months until they were finally acquitted on the charge of "intended bodily injury". The final five were released last March.

Human rights groups were intense in their criticism of the action, which was formerly suspended about a month ago by deputy health minister Fotini Skopouli, who subsequently resigned following Democratic Left's withdrawal from government. 

Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis The reintroduction of the measure serves not to protect public health but to trample on human rights and violate medical confidentiality, the HOMOphonia-Thessaloniki Pride organisation said.

"Public health is not protected by the castigation of people who are HIV-positive, but through the implementation of integrated programmes against HIV/Aids, through the introduction of sex education in schools, and regular public campaigns."

Cuts to HIV prevention budgets have coincided with rates of the Aids-causing virus rising by more than 200 percent since 2011, fuelled by increasing drug abuse amid spiralling youth unemployment.

Research last October by the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Keelpno) found that infections among injecting drug users has more than doubled to 487, from 206 in the same period in 2011 and 14 in 2010.

Injecting drug use accounted for almost half of all new infections, overtaking sex between men for the first time as the main means of transmission, the data showed.

Austerity has also seen the budget to the Okana drug treatment centres cut almost in half to €20m in 2012 from €35m in 2010.

A new documentary, entitled Ruins: Chronicle of a HIV Witch-hunt, looks at the campaign as it was conducted in 2012. It features exclusive interviews with two of the women, two of their mothers, lawyers, journalists, doctors and activists, who campaigned for the women's release.

Directed by Zoe Mavroudi, Ruins is in the final stages of editing and will be released in September. It is the first feature-length documentary produced by Radiobubble, a citizen journalism project in Athens.

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Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Keelpno)
Adonis Georgiadis
Andreas Loverdos