Thursday, June 28, 2007

Australia: A Sudanese-born HIV/AIDS immigrant is out on bail despite sex risk

Jamie Berry:

Lam Kuoth, who is accused of deliberately spreading HIV

A MAGISTRATE has granted bail to an HIV-positive man accused of spreading the deadly virus despite one of Victoria's top health officials saying he remained a public health risk.

Sudanese-born Lam Kuoth was arrested earlier this week near his home in the Geelong suburb of Norlane. Detectives from the sexual crimes squad charged Kuoth, 28, with recklessly endangering serious injury after it was alleged he knowingly had unprotected sex on April 22 with a 24-year-old woman who was unaware he carried the virus.

She was the only woman to make a statement to police, who allege that Kuoth had sex with other women, including two 16-year-old girls, since he became HIV-positive. Police said one 26-year-old woman, Kuoth's current partner, was infected and is pregnant to him.

Victorian Health Minister Bronwyn Pike said Kuoth came to the attention of the Department of Human Services late last year, and was being monitored by health authorities.

Kuoth arrived in Australia in July and was diagnosed HIV-positive in October. He was placed at Thomas Embling Hospital in isolation by the department on April 27.

Detective Senior Constable Greg Nunn told the Geelong Magistrates Court that DHS served Kuoth with a health order on April 4 signed by then chief health officer Robert Hall ordering Kuoth to use condoms, disclose his HIV status and attend counselling.

"We had evidence he wasn't complying with a public health order," DHS assistant director of public health, Chrissie Pickin, told the court yesterday.

But Dr Pickin said Kuoth was "making progress" and was now complying. "He will be actively monitored and managed in the community," she said. "He remains a public health risk."

Magistrate Jon Klestadt said he was satisfied that Kuoth had changed "very considerably" after receiving counselling with the help of an interpreter during his time in isolation.

"I'm satisfied on the evidence before me that there is reason to believe the attitude of the applicant (Kuoth) to both his own disease and his responsibility to the health of others has changed considerably during the period of the isolation order," Mr Klestadt said.

"Of course, if there is any suggestion or any allegation that he has returned to his previous alleged conduct, I would expect an application for the revocation of bail to be made immediately."

Kuoth must report to police every Monday and surrender his travel documents. He will reappear in court on July 6.

Defending the handling of the case by DHS, Ms Pike said the police were notified as soon as the department became aware of any potential illegal activity.

The case puts renewed pressure on Ms Pike who, earlier this year, resisted calls for her resignation following the mishandling of the case of Melbourne man Michael John Neal, who was committed to stand trial for deliberately spreading HIV. Ms Pike sacked chief health officer Dr Robert Hall over the issue.

Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu said the state's public health system had failed Victorians over infection control, food poisoning and the management of high-risk HIV carriers.

He said Kuoth was known to DHS, known to be a high-risk HIV carrier and had continued to put Victorians at risk. "At the very time these matters were getting such a public airing just a few months ago, at the very time that Bronwyn Pike was giving assurances that the system had been reviewed and everything was going well, we have had a dramatic failure again," he said.

Mr Baillieu said it was extraordinary that Kuoth was released from the hospital, saying "these are life and death issues and we have to take them very seriously". But Ms Pike said the alleged offence occurred before Kuoth was detained and isolated.

Man on HIV sex charge

HIV-positive man had sex with girls, court hears

Women tell of HIV sex risk

Warning: African disease factory at large


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