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Greece Sanctions Mandatory HIV Testing of High-Risk Groups

August 8, 2013

One day after his appointment as Greece's Health Minister on June 25, Adonis Georgiadis reinstated a controversial regulation that requires mandatory HIV testing for high-risk groups such as sex workers, undocumented immigrants, and drug users. Health Regulation Number GY/39A, "Amendments That Concern the Restriction of the Transmission of Infectious Diseases," which aims to address public health treatments and emergencies, specifies mandatory health examinations, isolation, and compulsory treatment for diseases such as influenza, TB, malaria, polio, hepatitis, HIV, and other STDs. Georgiadis stated the regulation was necessary to shield the public from emerging or re-emerging health threats, especially with Greece's "annual massive tourist influx."

International human rights organizations countered that Georgiadis's decision violated recommendations of the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, the European Center for Disease Control, and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency. A Doctors of the World spokesperson stated that the regulation would endanger public health if infected individuals were evicted without alternative housing. Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, urged the Greek government to focus instead on access to healthcare and public education.

The regulation explicitly states the government will adhere to international human rights conventions and protocols. However, it does not specify how testing will be carried out, and it allows police to assist in enforcing isolation, restrictions, quarantine, treatment, and hospitalization.

The government first introduced the regulation in April 2012 and repealed it in April 2013. The initial implementation resulted in a "roundup" and HIV testing of dozens of alleged sex workers. The police arrested those who were HIV-infected, charged them with "causing intentional grievous bodily harm," and released photographs and information from their medical records to media outlets. The women were incarcerated pending trial for months and released after being acquitted. Opponents of the regulation fear that similar violations of the "right to liberty" will occur after reinstatement of the law.

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