'Health Ministry must formulate policy on HIV-positive doctors'

Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee's decision follows case of top heart surgeon who was revealed to be a carrier.

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May 30, 2007 21:17
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The Health Ministry must immediately formulate a policy on the employment in the health system of medical professionals who are carriers of HIV, the Knesset Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee said on Wednesday. The committee, headed by Gil Party MK Moshe Sharoni, held a meeting triggered by the news that a senior surgeon at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, who discovered he was infected with HIV, would be allowed by the ministry to resume surgery after a few months away from work. The ministry has not insisted that patients about to undergo an operation be informed in advance that the surgeon is an HIV carrier. Sharoni said the case raised basic questions about whether doctors should be required to undergo medical exams; whether patient should be informed about doctors' infectious or other relevant conditions; and who should take responsibility if a patient is infected by a doctor. Sharoni demanded to know why the ministry has not issued clear directives about these issues. MK Haim Amsalem said a way must be found to inform patients about the doctor's medical condition. Dr. Daniel Chemtob, the ministry official in charge of HIV and tuberculosis services, said the ministry had a policy similar to that in advanced countries abroad. "In most countries, the physician is allowed to continue working even if he carries [a virus for] a deadly disease - if a committee is persuaded that he does not endanger his patients. That is what we in the ministry believe," he stated. Prof. Avinoam Reches, chairman of the Israel Medical Association ethics bureau, said that for the patients' good, they must know about their doctor's health condition and be informed if a significant danger is posed to their health. If so, patients must have the freedom to choose another doctor. However, he stipulated, any exposure of a doctor's condition may be done only when it poses a danger to the patient's health. Otherwise, doctors will avoid going for medical tests because they fear being stigmatized and losing their jobs. "The correct balance between these must be found. There have been only seven documented cases of patients who have been infected by their medical practitioners with serious diseases. Five [of the doctors] were dentists, plus an orthopedist and a gynecologist. But there have been hundreds of cases of doctors infected by their patients," he said. Prof. Yehuda Lehrman, a member of a committee set up by the ministry five years ago to determine policy on medical workers who are hepatitis B and C carriers, said that committee has already presented its recommendations, which should serve as a basis for decisions about HIV. Therefore, he said, the ministry will be able to presents its HIV policy within a few weeks, as demanded by the Knesset committee.

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