People living with HIV and the services that support them have labelled as “repugnant” comments made by an infectious disease doctor and Liberal party recruiter in Bendigo this month, saying his words could create fear of and misunderstanding about the virus.
Ivan Stratov hosted an anti-Safe Schools forum at the Bendigo Baptist Church earlier this month, one of several recruitment efforts from the state Liberal party’s right-wing faction targetting churches, migrant communities and ageing people.
In a wide-ranging speech that argued against abortion, dying with dignity and marriage equality, Dr Stratov also spoke about his experience treating patients with HIV, explaining lapsed moral judgment was to blame for the disease’s spread.
“I studied a disease called HIV; thirty-five million people have died from that disease because they all decided they were going to make man’s love, not God’s love,” Dr Stratov, also a former Family First state election candidate, said.
“Look at what’s happened to them.”
Victorian AIDS Council chief executive officer Simon Ruth, whose organisation runs Bendigo-based HIV service VACountry, said the medic’s claim was symptomatic of the stigma faced by the LGBTI community and people living with HIV.
The blood-borne virus could affect anyone, Mr Ruth said.
"Gay, straight, men, women, trans and gender diverse communities, and people of every race and religion – including 2.6 million children worldwide,” he said.
“HIV does not discriminate and to have a registered medical practitioner assert otherwise is repugnant.”
He also corrected Dr Stratov’s assertion that HIV was responsible for the deaths of millions, saying it was AIDS-related illnesses that claimed people’s lives.
HIV is now considered a chronic, manageable illness.
Criticism keeps coming
Bendigo-born HIV activist Dean Beck described Dr Stratov’s comments as “extraordinary”.
“As a medical practitioner, how dare he cast any judgment on any individual in his care,” Mr Beck said.
“If he if professes to be an expert in infectious diseases, he should not be perpetuating misinformation like that.”
The man, who is living with HIV, also called on the state’s Liberal party leadership to denounce Dr Stratov’s comments, saying the rhetoric reflected badly on the party.
Living Positive Victoria chief executive Brent Allen also expressed his concern about Dr Stratov’s contention, saying it was treatment and research, not religious speculation, that would contain the virus’ spread.
“We need to inform others about proven, scientific facts about the virus. Anything else promotes fear and division and does a disservice to the HIV response as a whole,” Mr Allen said.
Dr Stratov’s comments come at a time when his star appears to be on the rise inside the Liberal party; the man is next month expected to speak against dying with dignity at a Liberal forum on the proposed policy.
The Bendigo Advertiser contacted Dr Stratov but he declined the opportunity to comment.