Hospital staff 'must declare HIV status'
The apparent suicide of an HIV-positive public hospital doctor has raised questions over the risk of medical workers and patients contracting the virus - and led to calls for compulsory HIV disclosure for both groups.
A concern group says medical workers, especially surgeons, can contract HIV from minor injuries, because the virus lives in bodily fluids such as blood that they can come in contact with. Equally, those with HIV can transmit it to a patient.
The doctor, who worked at the Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan, jumped to his death in January, and the Department of Health confirmed last Saturday that he had HIV.
A hotline for members of the public concerned about the case was set up on Monday and had received 46 calls. An internal hotline was also set up for hospital staff.
The Coalition of Aids Service Organisations called for calm, saying health workers took standard precautions when in contact with blood, semen or vaginal fluid, to prevent the transmission of HIV.
But Kwok Ka-ki, a private doctor and convenor of the non-profit group Caring Hong Kong, said the government should require health workers to declare their HIV status, while patients having surgery should take an HIV test.
'There should be no discrimination for health care workers who stand up and admit they have HIV, it should be the same as admitting you have hepatitis, which people already openly do,' Kwok said. 'Admitting you have HIV no longer implies you lead a certain type of lifestyle, because most people with HIV were infected through heterosexual sex - what is there to discriminate about that?'
He called for health care workers to be added to a government list of groups at risk of HIV. The list includes prostitutes and their clients, homosexuals and the partners of people with HIV.
Kwok also said the risk of HIV made it crucial that health staff reported any work-related injury, no matter how small, but the Hospital Authority needed to simplify the reporting process.
'The process is so wearisome that staff are not going to bother reporting a needle prick, but they must report it for the benefit of themselves and their patients,' he said.
According to the Department of Health, there were 5,270 people infected with HIV in the city last year.
The department's figures show that since the first cases were reported in 1984, 42.4 per cent of people with HIV said they were infected through heterosexual sex while 27.7 per cent were infected through homosexual sex. Infection through intravenous drug use made up 5.9 per cent of the cases. The causes of infection were not available for all cases.
HIV is present in the blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk of carriers, and is transmitted through unprotected sex, sharing needles, blood transfusions and from mother to fetus.
The number of new cases of HIV in Hong Kong last year
- the prevalence is estimated at under 0.1 per cent of the population