There are many things that the British are enviable of when it comes to Greece (sunshine, beaches and tasty baklava are just a few things that spring to mind), however their recent controversial approach to HIV prevention is probably not one of them. As of last week Greece has made HIV testing mandatory for certain groups, including undocumented immigrants, sex workers and drug users (See article) . Compulsory HIV testing is being reintroduced in an attempt to curb rising HIV cases in the country which have risen by 200% in the last few years. This is seen as, in part, the consequence of cuts in HIV prevention budgets (which has been slashed from 35 million euros to just 20 million euros) and an increased amount of the population living in/on the brink of poverty as well as soaring unemployment and homeless levels (For more info see here).
Protest against compulsory testing in Greece
With an article published in the Lancet today showing that London HIV cases amongst MSM have risen by at least 21% between 2011 and 2012 (thought likely to be related to the party drug scene and particualrly rising use of G, crystal meth and mephedrone amongst gay and bi men) there is increasing pressure on the UK government to take a tough stance on HIV prevention. However, there are some very good reasons why the UK and other countries should avoid ‘going Greek’ by adopting compulsory testing here:
*Infringement of freedom to know and test: Many feel we should have a freedom of right to know whether we are HIV positive or not and we should not be forced to HIV test.
* The cost involved: Many countries could not/would struggle to afford mandatory testing and it is unlikely to be cost effective unless HIV prevalence is over 5% of the population.
*Counselling overload: HIV testing can only be compulsory if there is also counselling available for everyone who would test HIV positive, which would put a huge strain on current counselling provision. It would be impractical and virtually impossible to have enough counsellors to deal with such a situation and extremely expensive too.
* Ability to cope with the news: When doing an HIV test with someone it is imperative to ascertain whether the individual can cope with the news of a positive result. The person being tested might not be psychologicaly prepared for a positive result (e.g. if the person was suicidal) and giving the person this news could be dangerous.
* Increased stigmatisation: There is a risk that compulsary testing could increase HIV stigmatisation. For example, It could lead to exclusion from certain jobs and increase fear around HIV transmission resulting in discrimination.
What do you think about Greece’s approach to HIV prevention? Maybe you think that this is the right path for the UK, particularly given data published in the Lancet today, or maybe you find the idea completely inappropriate. We’d be interested to hear from you so leave any comments below.
GMI Parternship offers free, non-compulsory rapid HIV testing at Ku Bar, Frith Street, Soho every Saturday between 2 and 6pm and in conjunction with Positive East at Expectaions, Shoreditch between 5 and 7pm on Thursdays. For more information on testing in London please see the GMFA testing location website here.
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily representative of the GMI Partnership.