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Editorials and Commentary
Doctors Play Key Role in More HIV Testing

June 27, 2003

"... A quarter of the roughly 1 million Americans living with HIV don't know they are infected. An important way to address this is for those of us in the medical community to become more active in offering patients voluntary HIV testing and the services that accompany it.

"Testing is the first step toward getting people with HIV infections the care and treatment they need. It also is a chance for them to receive counseling on how to protect their partners, which is essential in reducing HIV infections. HIV testing in medical settings won't solve the AIDS crisis alone because many people at risk do not have access to health care. But for those who do enter our offices, we must get them tested -- especially African Americans and other people of color, who are at greatest risk.

"Of course, there are challenges to making HIV testing widely available in medical settings. After more than 20 years as an obstetrician and gynecologist in Houston, I've encountered many of them. Offering HIV testing and counseling takes time -- a luxury we don't have. For many physicians and patients, talking about testing also means overcoming discomfort with discussing sex, infidelity and drug use.

"Fortunately, these problems are not insurmountable. Nurses and other staff can and often do share in counseling responsibilities. Public health officials are streamlining counseling requirements so they meet informed consent guidelines but don't hinder testing. New rapid testing makes it possible to administer a test and provide the preliminary result in one office visit. And training programs help medical professionals become more comfortable with HIV testing and counseling. In other words, there can be no excuses. As physicians, we must be part of the solution.

"Today is National HIV Testing Day, and many Americans are hearing a potentially lifesaving message: 'Get tested!' We in the medical community should also hear it loud and clear."

Dr. Carroll is president of the National Medical Association, which represents African-American physicians.

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Excerpted from:
USA Today
06.27.03; L. Natalie Carroll, M.D.

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