Gay Leadership Calls For
Tracking HIV+ People!
After 20 Years Of AIDS, Responsible Measures Requested
NEW YORK (AP) - Tracking people as soon as they become infected with HIV is crucial to ``saving thousands of lives,'' the director of the nation's leading AIDS service agency said in a policy reversal.
The Gay Men's Health Crisis called on New York state to begin monitoring patients who test positive for HIV but who are not yet experiencing symptoms, a major turnaround in agency policy.
Tracking HIV is critical to fighting the spread of AIDS, said Ronald Johnson, the agency's managing director. He said that ignoring HIV-positive cases ``gives only the end-stage of the epidemic.''
``It doesn't tell us where it's growing and emerging,'' Johnson said Tuesday. ``You can't fight an epidemic if you don't know where it is.''
He said the move would be crucial to ``saving thousands of lives.''
In its position paper, the nonprofit agency does not address the issue of using patients' names to monitor cases because ``too much attention has been given to names and not to a unique identifier system,'' Johnson said.
While the agency does not oppose using names, it favors privacy protection through the use of coded identification systems, with computerized information about a patient available only to health care professionals.
Similar systems are used in Maryland and Texas.
The policy switch could influence other states' policies, as New York is - as Johnson put it - at the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic, with the highest rate of reported AIDS cases in the United States. For every 100,000 people in the state, 69 have AIDS, state health officials estimate. Another 150,000 are infected with HIV.
Lawrence Gostin, an adviser to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said GMHC's decision ``not to expressly oppose name reporting'' was the most significant aspect of its new position.
``The word `name' in the history of the AIDS epidemic is powerful. There is a terror in the gay community about names being kept on government databases,'' said Gostin, a professor of law and public health at Georgetown University.
``That's the single thing that's prevented implementation of a national system of HIV reporting that's desperately needed,'' he said.
Gostin said he believes the CDC will recommend that names of HIV-positive patients be recorded, and ``most places are going to go along.''
Twenty-eight states have HIV reporting, accounting for about 24 percent of all AIDS cases reported in the United States. Every state requires doctors to report AIDS cases to public health officials. But in many states, including New York and California, HIV cases need not be registered.
Major groups that also support HIV reporting using coded identification include AIDS Action, a national group representing 2,500 community providers of AIDS services, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.
The state AIDS Advisory Council - representing the medical community and advocates - will make policy recommendations to the governor and the Legislature in March. The California Legislature will begin considering proposed laws on HIV reporting in February.

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