July 28 2017, updated 7:08am

Refugees with HIV to cost NZ $1m a year

Last updated 01:15 17/03/2008

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Taxpayers are to fork out nearly $1 million a year for HIV drugs and treatment for 50 Zimbabwean refugees who have been granted residency.

The refugees include more than a dozen who have been allowed to stay in New Zealand after they came forward during an amnesty.

The Government conceded in August 2006 that it erred in allowing Zimbabweans into the country without conducting HIV tests - despite knowing the country's deadly infection rates.

Immigration figures obtained by The Dominion Post show 939 Zimbabweans were granted residency as at the start of this month under a policy to help them flee the humanitarian crisis caused by Robert Mugabe's regime between 2000 and 2004.

Of these, 345 had their residency approved after coming forward under the amnesty - offered when it became clear that refugees were avoiding authorities - and 17 of this group had tested HIV-positive.

A total of 50 refugees with HIV had been approved under the policy and three were still undetermined pending further information.

A further 15 applications are still being processed.

It costs about $18,000 a year to treat a person with the virus using anti-retroviral treatment. The cost of treating 50 people comes to $900,000 a year.

The Health Ministry confirmed that it meets all treatment costs.

NZ Aids Foundation spokesman Eamonn Smythe said granting the Zimbabweans residency was a positive humanitarian move.

"These are people who are working, paying taxes, contributing to the New Zealand economy and helping to build strong communities," he said.

Labour Department work force deputy secretary Mary Anne Thompson said the Government's decision was in line with United Nations best practice.

It was the best option for people to come forward and be treated, she said.

The Special Zimbabwe Residence Policy was launched in 2005.

Nearly 600 were granted residence under the policy but many who were eligible had not come forward.

In August 2006, the Government offered the remaining refugees an amnesty, promising they would not be rejected if they were found to be HIV-positive.

The Government believed some were not coming forward because they feared rejection after a policy change the previous year that required mandatory HIV screening.

From November 2005, all migrants applying for permanent residency must provide a medical certificate for tests for tuberculosis and HIV.

Opposition associate health spokeswoman Jackie Blue said she was disappointed it had taken so long to find the refugees, who should have had more timely treatment and had posed a health risk.

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- The Dominion Post

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