Students in botched diabetes tests receive HIV results

Some students at a Winnipeg aboriginal high school are relieved after receiving results on Monday from HIV and hepatitis tests they had to undergo following an improperly administered diabetes test.
About 50 of the 80 Southeast Collegiate students and staff who underwent a botched diabetes test last month are expected to receive their first HIV and hepatitis test results on Monday. (CBC)

Some students at a Winnipeg aboriginal high school are relieved after receiving results on Monday from HIV and hepatitis tests they underwent following an improperly administered diabetes test.

About 70 students and staff at Southeast Collegiate were improperly tested for diabetes last month by a University of Manitoba faculty member who pricked their fingers with the same glucometer pen.

The professor, who is with the pediatrics and child health department at the university's medical school, did replace the lancet — the pricking needle — for each person. However, the pen itself is not meant to be used by more than one person, university officials told CBC News last week.

That has raised concerns among health officials of a slight risk of the students and staff contracting blood-borne viruses.

It was originally estimated that 80 students and staff were affected by the diabetes tests, but the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority revised that number on Monday to 70.

Authority officials said about 55 of those students and staff members have been tested for HIV and hepatitis, and they received their results on Monday.

The mother of one student told CBC News her daughter texted her with good news.

"Her test was negative. I was happy," said the mother, who CBC News is not naming to protect her daughter's identity.

The mother said she hopes her daughter will be able to write her Grade 12 provincial mathematics exam on Tuesday with a clear head.

"I told her just to not let it get to her too much," she said.

'Sleepless nights'

Michael Yellowback, the Manto-Sipi Cree First Nation chief whose teenaged son was tested, said he has had "sleepless nights" as he wondered if his son's test results would come back positive.

Yellowback declined to comment on Monday, but over the weekend, he said he will still be concerned if his son's test comes back negative for HIV and hepatitis because the test will have to be done again in six months.

Chief Michael Yellowback of the Manto-Sipi Cree First Nation travelled to Winnipeg over the weekend to be with his son, who took the botched diabetes test and is now waiting for blood test results. (CBC)

"We have to wait another six months before the second round of tests have to be done," he said on Saturday. "That's another six months of anxiety that we have to endure."

Privacy laws prevent the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority from releasing any information about the test results.

Southeast Collegiate is a boarding school for aboriginal students, owned and operated by nine northern Manitoba First Nations that do not have high schools in their own communities.

The faculty member who administered the diabetes test had been invited to Southeast Collegiate to speak to students as part of a diabetes awareness day on May 4. However, that person was not a physician and was not authorized by the university to perform blood sugar tests, according to officials.

Dr. Cheryl Rockman-Greenberg, head of the university's pediatrics and child health department, said the faculty member has since been disciplined.

However, Southeast Collegiate's handling of the whole situation could create legal problems, according to a law expert.

Could constitute assault

Anne Mcgillivray, who teaches children's rights at the University of Manitoba's law school, said there are legal implications for not getting proper consent in advance before the students had their fingers pricked.

We have to wait another six months before the second round of tests have to be done. That's another six months of anxiety that we have to endure.

"At the very simple level, it's a battery. It's assault," she said. "If consent did not run in this situation, then unconsented touching is a battery and unconsented medical touching is a battery."

Neither the school nor the faculty member who administered the test had sought the permission of the students' parents. The faculty member had assumed that parents already knew the diabetes tests would be carried out, Rockman-Greenberg said.

Southeast Collegiate's first move, Mcgillivray said, should have been to notify parents as soon as they knew there was a problem.

"If the school screws up, the school has to tell right away," she said. "That's absolutely critical in assessing liability because it goes to mitigation of damages, but it also is critical in exercising fiduciary duty, which schools also share with parents."

Mcgillivray would not say whether there are sufficient grounds for a lawsuit in this case.