July 24, 2003 – A week after announcing the launch of an internal investigation into the disappearance of 22 HIV test specimens collected at a public health fair on St. John's east end in June, Health Commissioner Mavis Matthew vowed on Thursday to "restore public confidence."
As a step in that direction, Matthew has asked that all persons who believe their test specimens may be among the missing attend a meeting she has called for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Morris F. De Castro Clinic in Cruz Bay. The purpose of the meeting is "to provide further information to the public," she said.
Mavis also said in a statement on Thursday that the Health Department has "secured the resources of an additional agency to assist us with the investigation, and we have set up a timetable to conduct investigative hearings." She said health workers from the department affiliate have submitted preliminary reports to the department's legal counsel.
Information also is expected to be sent to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
The HIV test specimens were collected on June 28 at a health fair held in Coral Bay marking National HIV Testing Day. On July 15, a report of the missing specimens was filed with the Police Department. Sgt. Thomas Hannah, police spokesman, said the police tried to help determine whether the specimens had been misplaced.
Matthew said the Health Department is taking the matter very seriously. "Prior to this incident, the management and security of these test specimens had never been compromised," she said. "This specific incident is out of the norm."
Concerns about confidentiality have long been raised as an obstacle to getting the public to take preventive steps toward curbing the spread of HIV and AIDS in the Virgin Islands.
In her Thursday statement, Matthew said that while the specimens have not been found, there has been no breach of confidentiality — because there were no test results involved. The specimens would have been sent off island for testing. "There were no test results," she said, "so there is no danger of disclosure of the clinical status of those individuals tested."
Mavis also said the public should not worry that accidental contact with the missing specimens might expose anyone to the virus. "Individuals cannot become HIV infected by coming into contact with any of the missing specimens," she said.
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