The Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) condemns recent public statements singling out and blaming an individual for spreading COVID-19 in South Australia. These statements represent a significant threat to effective public health responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and directly contradict best practice.
We know from four decades of the HIV response that a public health approach must always be the overriding priority within a pandemic. Criminal investigations led by police, as well as other actions that demonise infected, exposed or affected people, slow down and ultimately undermine the public health approach.
ASHM’s Australasian Contact Tracing Guidelines make it clear that best-practice contact tracing focuses on gaining the goodwill and cooperation of a patient, and avoids judgement. Individuals must be supported to freely, safely and confidentially share information that will assist tracking, tracing and interrupting transmission in the community.
Publicly identifying and shaming individuals will make the work of our key public health workers more difficult and less effective. We are concerned that the response to the individual who has been blamed for the South Australian COVID-19 outbreak will make others less likely to come forward.
We support statements made by our colleagues in the sector that this recent response goes against core public health principles of trust between healthcare providers and patients.
With further COVID-19 outbreaks in Australia a possibility for the foreseeable future, we call on all public officials to prioritise responses that are in line with these principles, and to continue Australia’s excellent track record in a public health-led response to the COVID-19 pandemic.