A landmark case involving HIV transmission within a marriage heard yesterday the wife was still clear of infection when public health authorities contacted the couple’s doctor about the husband’s HIV treatment.
In the case, being heard in the Supreme Court, the Sydney woman is challenging the legal protection of doctor-patient confidentiality. She is suing doctors Nicholas Harvey and King Weng Chen of Marrickville for negligence and breach of contract.A sexual health expert, Dr Carmella Law, told the court alarm bells should have sounded for Dr Harvey in May 1999 when health officials requested an update on the HIV treatment of the woman’s husband, born in Ghana. The couple visited Dr Harvey for pre-marriage sexual health tests in November 1998. The woman was HIV negative. But the man tested positive for HIV and hepatitis B, receiving the results from Dr Chen, of the same practice. The man apparently forged a laboratory report, deceiving his fiancee that he was also negative.Dr Law said when Dr Harvey was unable to contact the man by phone or post in May 1999 and discovered he had not attended Royal Prince Alfred Hospital’s HIV clinic where he had been referred, Dr Harvey should have acted to safeguard his other patient – the wife.Dr Law said Dr Harvey should have sought advice from sexual health specialists who would have advised him to contact the chief health officer, who has the power under the Public Health Act to authorise the release of patients’ HIV status if their behaviour is likely to endanger others. Ian Harrison, SC, for the doctors, said the man could have decided to attend another clinic, and the doctors had no indication idea he would behave in the irresponsible manner he did.However, Dr Law said the nature of sexual health medicine meant doctors could not assume they were dealing with “ideal” human behaviour.The hearing continues.(Source: Sydney Morning Herald, By Leonie Lamont, May 8 2003)