Chile says 512 may be infected in HIV scandal

Chile’s public health system may have failed to notify at least 512 people that they were infected with HIV, Health Minister Alvaro Erazo said on Thursday amid a mushrooming AIDS scandal in Chile.

Appearing before the Lower House of Congress, Erazo said health records could not confirm that some 244 people infected with the virus were informed, despite efforts to the contrary.

Records also could not show efforts had even been made to inform another 268 people, according to a health ministry document issued on Erazo’s presentation to Congress.

“With current information it is not possible to be sure that people identified in the ... groups have not been informed, only that there are no records of that happening,” he said.

“What is clear is that there are service (areas) that are not complying as they should in the follow-up and notification of these cases.”

Chile’s previous health minister resigned and was replaced by Erazo after it emerged a hospital in far northern Chile failed to notify dozens of patients they had tested positive for HIV.

Before she quit when the scandal broke last month, former health minister Maria Soledad Barria removed the head of medicine, the supervising nurse and the head of the blood bank at a hospital in Iquique in northern Chile pending an investigation of possible negligence.

Erazo told lawmakers the government would take immediate action to revise public health procedures and protocol.

President Michelle Bachelet’s center-left coalition government has been battered by protests and scandals in recent months, helping boost its rightist rivals before what is seen as the toughest presidential race since Chile’s return to democracy two decades ago.

Bachelet, who trained as a doctor and was a former health minister, is an AIDS expert.

The election race begins next year before Chileans go to the polls in late 2009. By law, Bachelet cannot seek a second consecutive term.

SANTIAGO (Reuters)

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