Personal Views

I was tested for HIV

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 09 December 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:1578

Whenever I read in the newspapers that a doctor has been found to be HIV positive my thoughts are with the doctor as much as the patients who are given the telephone helpline numbers to ring. I wonder how the doctor is coping with the humiliating publicity on top of dealing with such a personal tragedy.

In 1990 I went to work in South Africa doing paediatrics and obstetrics at a large government teaching hospital. I knew that the HIV epidemic was spreading further south in subSaharan Africa but I reassured my family and friends that the risk of infection was minimal and doctors had always had to face becoming infected with contagious diseases. It was not something that I was going to let unsettle me.

Attitudes seemed carefree when I started my paediatric post, but soon after I arrived a survey of the hospital's antenatal patients revealed a 2% prevalence of HIV infection and a doubling time of eight months was forecast. We started testing children on the gastroenteritis ward and found that 10% were seropositive.

The practicalities of informed consent and patient confidentiality were difficult to apply in that environment. I remember one instance when a positive HIV result was received two days after the …

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