AIDS Action Calls On Mandatory Testing Proponents To End Misinformation Campaign
Statement by Aimee Berenson Legislative Counsel, AIDS Action Council
May 1, 1996
AIDS Action believes that all efforts should be made to curb the spread of HIV among pregnant women and newborns. We also believe, however, that federal policies meant to achieve this goal must be grounded in the reality of sound public health practices: the best way to prevent HIV infection in newborns is to prevent HIV infection in women. For this reason, AIDS Action has long opposed the misguided efforts led by Reps. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) to incorporate into Ryan White CARE Act legislation a mandatory testing measure that does nothing to contribute to our struggle against this epidemic. To an extent, we have been successful in thwarting their ill-conceived efforts. House-Senate Ryan White CARE Act conferees, supported by medical experts nationwide, have rejected mandatory testing as counterproductive to the goal of preventing HIV transmission to newborns. The compromise included in the final Ryan White CARE Act reauthorization bill instead shifts the emphasis to voluntary counseling and testing and provides needed resources to implement Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines regarding HIV transmission to newborns.
While we are relieved that this provision does not force states to implement mandatory testing programs, we fear another campaign of misinformation similar to the one waged thus far by mandatory testing proponents. Such a campaign could undermine the underlying message behind this provision Ñ that voluntary counseling, testing and treatment of pregnant women is the key to curbing the incidence of HIV infection in newborns. The language of this compromise provision represents Washington double-speak at its worst. Given that, we fear that the net effect of the bitter and frightening debate that has ensued around this issue, aside from creating a political climate of fear and coercion, could potentially be that state legislatures will implement mandatory testing programs in order to protect themselves against the possible loss of vital Ryan White CARE Act dollars. AIDS Action will work vigorously to fight attempts to mandate HIV testing for women and their children and to protect states from losing critical HIV care dollars. We call on those whose announced goal is to protect newborns from HIV to oppose mandatory testing measures that are in direct opposition to that goal. The misguided efforts by some to implement mandatory testing is hurtful to our fight against this insidious disease.
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