June 7, 2006
At a series of meetings this spring, New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden advocated changing state HIV testing protocols to facilitate HIV screening, and state privacy rules to allow public health authorities to share information about matters such as viral load and drug resistance with an HIV patient's doctor. Currently, New York requires separate written consent for an HIV test and such patient data cannot be shared.
"As long as HIV testing is different from all other testing in the medical care system it's not going to be part of routine medical care," Frieden told a recent Harlem Hospital forum.
Representatives of civil liberties groups and organizations serving people with HIV/AIDS largely disagreed. "To imagine it's just like every other disease like cancer or diabetes is false," said Tracy Walsh, executive director of the HIV Law Project.
"How will we ensure that those individuals who test positive will not be criminalized in an effort to contain the epidemic?" asked Ofelia Barrios of Harlem Directors Group, a consortium of AIDS services organizations.
Frieden said he was not proposing mandatory HIV testing or breaching confidentiality. However, he said following his plan could halve the number of people "who find out they're HIV positive when they're already sick with AIDS."
Sen. Tom Duane, the only openly HIV-positive member of the New York State Legislature, said Frieden underestimates the persistence of HIV/AIDS stigma. Frieden's proposed changes will face an uphill battle in the Legislature, where he expects them to be introduced within the next few weeks.