The BCCLA is urging the provincial government and opposition to reject a private member’s bill that proposes court ordered HIV testing where emergency workers are exposed to body fluids. The Association says that the bill threatens emergency worker health by failing to educate them about the urgency of treatment on exposure, and unnecessarily erodes the principle that government should not force any form of medical procedure on citizens.
Current practice for exposure to HIV in the workplace is a four week course of highly active anti-retroviral drug therapy commenced within two to four hours of exposure. For Hepatitis B, treatment involves immediate vaccination, not later than 24 hours from exposure. There is no treatment available for Hepatitis C exposure.
“Given current treatment guidelines, appropriate medical treatment protocols would be under way before a lawyer would even be able to draft the first of the documents required for to apply for a court order. The suggestion that court-ordered testing is a panacea in cases of work-related exposure thus appears misguided,” notes Robert Holmes, Q.C., President of the BCCLA. “Treatment must be based on medical assessments of risk level, and the information we’ve seen suggests that in high risk situations it should start immediately.”
Further, HIV and Hepatitis testing is known to be unreliable given infection window periods – a person may not just falsely test negative due to lab errors, but the infection may not have yet built up to levels detectable by current tests. Predicating treatment on test results, forced or otherwise, could have disastrous consequences.
“Our emergency workers are heroes for the risks that they take every day,” said Holmes. “But we should provide them with the best medical practice, equipment, treatment and advice possible, not the false comfort of a pointless law that will lead to legal wrangling about forced medical testing and treatment.”
Robert Holmes, President, (604) 838-6856
David Eby, Executive Director, 604-630-9752 or 778-865-7997