ATHENS - Greek authorities have arrested 17 HIV-positive women who allegedly worked illegally as prostitutes, accusing them of intentionally causing serious bodily harm.
The names and photographs of 12 of the women were published on a police website, angering human rights advocates who said it was unclear whether the women were aware they had HIV.
"This is an appalling violation of human rights and medical confidentiality ... an unprecedented action stigmatisation," Positive Voice, a group that helps people with HIV, said in a statement.
The arrests come amid a crackdown on hundreds of unlicensed brothels around Greece, which recently toughened HIV testing laws for prostitution in response to a sharp rise in AIDS cases last year.
Prostitution is legal in Greece, with regular health checks for sex workers required. But authorities say only a fraction of brothels are licensed.
Health Minister Andreas Loverdos warned of a rise in cases of customers having sex without a condom for an additional fee.
"This is an exploded bomb," he said. "It is a problem that should have been limited but it now involves Greek society. It's a problem that we cannot erase but only try to contain."
The women were among 130 women screened by the state-run Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Hundreds more women are likely to be screened in the next few weeks.
The agency said it had received more than 1500 calls from men inquiring about brothel safety and HIV tests since the crackdown began over the weekend. It was unclear if anyone had been infected by the 17 women, who authorities said were arrested over the past four days.
According to the disease control centre, 954 new HIV infections were reported in 2011, a 57 per cent increase from the previous year.
The spread between men remained the most common form of transmission, but the number of cases involving drug users increased 15-fold in 2011 to 241.
Authorities say they are concerned about the overlap between drug use and illegal prostitution.
Greece will hold a general election on Sunday, and Loverdos said he would call on the next government to criminalise unprotected sex at brothels.
"Let's make this a crime. It's not all the fault of the illegally procured woman, it's 50 per cent her fault and 50 per cent that of the client, perhaps more because he is paying," he said.