Alleged HIV offender exposes flawed system

By Greg Ansley

CANBERRA - A police investigation into an Adelaide man detained on suspicion of deliberately infecting as many as 11 others with the HIV virus has sparked a furore that has crossed state boundaries, created new problems for medical ethics and exposed failings in systems designed to protect the community.

Stuart McDonald, a 39-year-old chef, is being held in a psychiatric hospital while police continue their inquiries and a Government investigation tries to determine why authorities did not act until two years after the first allegations were made, and why different departments did not pass crucial information to each other.

The State Government is also under pressure to seek the lifting of a court order suppressing publication of McDonald's image, imposed to protect any future charges that may be laid against him.

The Australian Medical Association and the state Opposition argues that because McDonald allegedly used aliases to attract sexual partners over the internet, still more victims may unknowingly have contracted the virus - and that public safety outweighs any other consideration.

The furore echoes an earlier case in Victoria, where another man accused of intentionally infecting multiple partners with HIV has been committed to stand trial on 106 charges.

Michael Neal travelled across state borders for two years, ignoring a requirement to report daily to the state's Department of Human Services. Police were not told of the breach, prompting calls for the resignation of Health Minister Bronwyn Pike.

Victorian authorities are now reviewing information between police and health agencies.

In South Australia, McDonald's alleged activities have been compounded by the failure of officials to act on repeated warnings - including allegations of rape and male prostitution - and fears that suppression of his image will further spread a strain of the virus unknown in the state until McDonald moved to Adelaide from New South Wales.

Complaints against McDonald date back to 2005, when authorities were alerted to allegations that McDonald was engaged in unprotected sex with multiple partners, despite carrying the HIV virus.

In early 2005 the state Health Department's communicable disease control branch was told that McDonald had knowingly infected another man. A second complaint was made by another alleged victim several months later, followed by a complaint of rape.

McDonald was made subject to a supervisory order and, after considerable delays, appeared before a panel of experts assembled to manage his behaviour in October 2005.

But authorities believe McDonald continued his activities, based on further complaints by alleged victims and the fact that 11 men now carry his strain of HIV, previously unrecorded in the state.

The suppression order on the publication of his image has continued but the Medical Association wants the order lifted, arguing that those accused ofdeliberately engaging in behaviour dangerous to public safety have no right to privacy.

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