September 6, 2011
State health officials are hoping a new HIV testing law will help more people learn their serostatus. Effective Sept. 6 in Pennsylvania, consent to undergo HIV testing must be documented by health care providers; a patient's signed consent is no longer required. In addition, immediate face-to-face counseling will be required only when delivering a patient's HIV-positive test results.
"I think it removes a barrier to HIV testing," Dr. Mary van den Berg Wolf, deputy director of Temple University Hospital's Comprehensive HIV Program, said of revisions to the previous, stricter testing regulations. "Once people are tested, research has shown that they tend to take measures to protect their partners, so they are more likely to use condoms."
"We wanted to remove the stigma from getting HIV testing, to get it into the realm of a test like any other medical test," said van den Berg Wolf, who was among those lobbying for the new law.
"The hope is that as a result of this law, more people will be tested and that we will catch some of the people that we're missing," said Gary Bell, executive director of Bebashi -- Transition to Hope. Among the services the Philadelphia-based group provides are pre- and post-test counseling. While the new law does not require post-test counseling for people with HIV-negative results, Bebashi will continue providing it.
"A person may not understand what a negative result means," Bell said, explaining that an HIV-positive person may test negative during the initial phase of the infection.