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U.S. News

Rhode Island: Doctors Seek Change in HIV-Testing Law

June 19, 2008

This week at the State House, medical professionals were among dozens of groups lobbying for legislative action before the Assembly adjourns, possibly as early as Friday. Doctors are calling for passage of a bill that would eliminate the need for written consent before an HIV test, which they say is a barrier to screening.

HIV rates in Rhode Island are on the rise, especially among heterosexual women, say physicians. They estimate around 500 people in the state are unaware they are HIV-positive.

"Those 500 people will cause more than half of the estimated 130 infections we will see next year. If these 500 people are tested, transmission rates will fall dramatically," Dr. Brian Alverson, Hasbro Children's Hospital pediatrician and professor of medicine at Brown University, said in a letter to the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee.

"All of us on front lines are seeing people who have not had HIV testing previously, so we're finding HIV very late in the course of their disease," said Dr. Nicole Alexander, an infectious-disease specialist at Rhode Island Hospital. "This is something that could have been prevented if we could have eliminated the barriers."

Under the bill, sponsored by Rep. Eileen S. Naughton (D-Warwick), testing patients for HIV without their knowledge would still be illegal. The measure has faltered in committee, but health care providers are hoping their push will result in House passage.

The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union strongly opposes the legislation. "The doctors are acting as if [written consent] is such an incredible burden that they can't give anybody tests," said Executive Director Steven Brown. "Our position is that informed consent is a very important criterion, especially for this type of testing where the stigma and discrimination that flows from HIV remains really great."

Back to other news for June 2008

Adapted from:
Providence Journal
06.19.2008; Cynthia Needham

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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