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Philadelphia Board of Health Approves Names-Based HIV Reporting System

September 1, 2005

The Philadelphia Board of Health this month unanimously voted to implement a names-based HIV reporting system in the city amid concerns that it will compromise confidentiality, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Pennsylvania uses a names-based HIV reporting system but had granted Philadelphia a one-year waiver after Mayor John Street and AIDS and privacy advocates pushed for a code-based system, which they said would protect privacy, prevent discrimination and encourage HIV testing. However, the code-based system has "proved cumbersome, expensive and incomplete," according to the Inquirer. For example, doctors and hospitals often fail to report information such as birth dates, which are needed to convert names into code that the city sends to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. In addition, CDC in July sent a letter to all state health departments calling for HIV cases to be reported by name as AIDS cases are. The agency said it will only accept names-based HIV surveillance data, which has proven more accurate, even though names and personal identities are removed from data CDC receives. Philadelphia is one of 14 state and local health departments that uses codes rather than names to report HIV cases.

At a public hearing on Tuesday, AIDS advocates expressed concerns about names-based reporting. Larry Frankel, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said, "It appears that the city is just giving in to pressure from the CDC." However, Ronda Goldfein, executive director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, said that names-based reporting is "still a bad idea" but a "bad idea whose time has come" (McCullough, Philadelphia Inquirer, 8/31).

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