Cyprus Mail

Ombudswoman slams ‘ignorance and stereotyping’ towards HIV tourist

Eliza Savvidou

The Commissioner for Administration and Human Rights said on Tuesday the recent alleged attitudes shown towards a British tourist with HIV in Paphos revealed the extent and the degree of ignorance and stereotyping that still existed in Cyprus.

“Unfortunately, the elements of the case reveal the deeply rooted, widespread and extremely persistent prejudices surrounding the issue of HIV/AIDS and are based on ignorance and lack of information, even by health professionals,” said Commissioner and Ombudswoman Eliza Savvidou.

She said the provision of medical care and treatment of HIV was a complex and constantly evolving issue, and based on current scientific information and developments, conditions in terms of health had improved for those with HIV.

“However, discrimination, the frequent lifting of medical secrecy and stigma that still accompanies the disease, still leads unfortunately, to social isolation and exclusion,” Savvidou said.

She was referring to the launch of an investigation by the health ministry and the medical association into claims that a British tourist who is HIV positive was denied medical care and hospitality while on holidays in Paphos.

The tourist was reportedly asked to leave the hotel he was staying after the establishment was told by a doctor from a private clinic that he was HIV positive. He was also unable to find new lodgings subsequently, a tour operator who was trying to assist him told the head of the board of the HIV/AIDS Support Centre. The man was also allegedly refused further treatment at private clinics in the town. In the end one hotel took him in and arranged for him to be seen by a doctor.  The tourist has since returned to the UK.

Those to whom the case was reported say they can’t name names while investigations are ongoing. Hoteliers’ representatives have said they find it hard to believe such a thing could happen.

Savvidou said that healthcare professionals in particular had an important role in ensuring the rights of people with HIV. “Observing medical confidentiality and providing care without discrimination is a fundamental duty of every health professional and administrative staff members at healthcare providers, both public and private. Moreover, respect for human rights of HIV carriers is a basic obligation of the state as a whole,” she said.

Savvidou said the denial of medical care and the violation of medical confidentiality were the most frequent violations reported to human rights bodies when it came to HIV/AIDS patients.

“Any act that disrupts the climate of trust and confidence between doctor and patient is a major blow to the patient’s health and to the public health system, which health professionals have a duty to serve strictly,” the written statement said.

Savvidou said the alleged behavior of the health professionals being investigated, revealed complete ignorance about the virus and instead had adhered to a stereotype. “The circumstances of this case, unfortunately, not only tarnish the image of the involved professionals, but also the image of Cyprus internationally,” she added.

Savvidou said a full investigation and disciplinary measures was needed to send a clear message that such behavior would not be tolerated.  The state also needed to examine in depth the training of professionals working in crucial positions, she added.

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