May 19, 2011
As the result of an article published yesterday by the New York Post specifically naming Harlem United housing units as the possible residence of an alleged sexual assault victim, speculation has been raised regarding the accuser's HIV status. Numerous media have also subsequently cited the original article since it appeared.
Harlem United complies with all laws regarding patient privacy and confidentiality, including federal HIPPA rules and Article 27F in New York State. Therefore, we will not comment to confirm or deny the services we provide to any individual.
However, we recognize this as a key opportunity to address the much larger issues and obstacles to care that are inevitably raised for people living with HIV or AIDS when privacy is not valued.
This year marks 30 years since the first case of HIV (then called Gay Related Immunodeficiency Syndrome or G.R.I.D.) was diagnosed. Since that time, our country has come a long way in our ability to prevent and treat HIV, as well as our understanding of it. Society has reached a watershed moment in the history of the HIV epidemic where HIV testing, treatment, and care can dramatically reduce HIV infections and improve health outcomes for people living with HIV or AIDS. Unfortunately, HIV-related stigma and discrimination still remain prominent barriers to reaching individuals who are most in need of HIV testing and care. The social consequences of an HIV-positive test result far outweigh the clinical consequences in the era of life-saving anti-viral drugs. All patients deserve privacy regarding their medical histories and information. However, given the associated stigma, people who have been at risk for HIV must feel even more confident that their privacy will be protected once they seek testing, treatment and support in their efforts to live a full life after an HIV-positive diagnosis.
Harlem United is committed to fighting the HIV epidemic in Harlem and throughout New York City, a goal that relies heavily upon full adherence to patient rights to privacy and confidentiality. Thus, when media or others attempt to use the lingering fears and misperceptions of HIV to add sensationalism or hyperbole to a story, they serve only to further stigmatize the disease and the individuals who live with it. It also creates additional obstacles for organizations such as ours that work to overcome barriers to trust and compliance with our clients every day.
We consider the media an important ally in the efforts to disseminate accurate information about HIV and other related health risks. It is the responsibility of the advocates, government and media alike to create a more evidence-informed community that is empowered with the information and skills needed to have an open dialogue and make the right decisions that will curb the transmission of the disease.
In fact, it is the responsibility of us all.
Steven C. Bussey