- 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
- ``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
- 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.