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SUVA, Fiji Islands (April 20, 1999 - PACNEWS)---A leading regional adviser on sexually transmitted diseases has recommended that the best way to prevent the spread of the deadly AIDS virus is through voluntary, and not mandatory, testing.

Dr. Michael O’Leary, Chairperson of the Suva-based United Nations theme group on HIV/AIDS, said compulsory testing should be rejected, among other reasons, because it infringes on people’s rights.

In an article for a youth magazine produced by UNAIDS called "Up Front", Dr. O’Leary said compulsory testing was unrealistic, costly and a waste of time.

"Very few medical authorities would accept the infringement of individual rights and indignity that this would involve. Beyond this, it is simply not practical. It would require that almost everyone in the country be tested at least annually," he said.

Last month, the Kiribati National Council of Churches called for compulsory AIDS tests for sailors and frequent travelers. Council Secretary Kianteata Teabo said the present voluntary medical check-up was not deterring the spread of AIDS.

Teabo said he was concerned because Kiribati society, with its 80,000 population, could be devastated if people infected with the HIV virus remain undetected. The island nation recently recorded its first death from AIDS. The victim, a sailor, reportedly contracted the deadly virus from abroad.

Dr. O’Leary dismissed claims that AIDS could be controlled through mandatory testing, after which the names of people with HIV are made public.

"Medical experts believe that publishing the names of known cases of HIV infection could actually increase the risk of HIV spreading. First, a false sense of security could develop and people would be more careless in their sexual behavior because they mistakenly believe they have little to worry about. Secondly, the people who suspect they may be positive will avoid testing because of the serious repercussions of being found positive," he said.

The regional STD/AIDS adviser said mandatory testing would also be costly. For Papua New Guinea, he said, it would mean testing 8,000 adults every working day of the year.

"This would mean maintaining a complete and constantly updated list of all the people tested. It would also require an army of trained field workers and an enormous expense of supplies, equipment and laboratory facilities. The effort of screening alone would completely out pace and out cost any other health initiative," he said.

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