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Nurs Ethics. 2005 May;12(3):288-95.

When is public disclosure of HIV seropositivity acceptable?

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Department of Community Health, University of Malawi College of Medicine, Chichiri, Blantyre 3, Malawi.


HIV/AIDS is a major public health problem in Africa. Stigmatization, discrimination and lack of appropriate health care are among the commonest challenges that HIV infected persons and their families face. It has been suggested that among the tools available in the fight against stigmatization and discrimination is public disclosure of a person's HIV seropositive status. While public disclosure of HIV status has a place in the fight against HIV and AIDS, especially by resulting in behavioural change among people who know of an HIV infected person, we argue that such disclosure also has potential attendant harms. The posthumous disclosure of HIV status is particularly problematic. Public disclosure should be accompanied by appropriate individual counselling and preparation of the community to deal with the situation, and should have regard for cultural sensitivity after consideration of the risks and benefits to individuals, families and the community. Health practitioners should keep in mind that their main duty is to the best interest of the patient, the family and the community, in that order.

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