Florida: Broward Health Department Drops Rapid HIV Testing at Jails

This article was reported by Sun Sentinel.

The Sun-Sentinel recently reported that Broward County Health Department discontinued HIV rapid testing for county jail inmates because the positivity rate was not high enough to warrant the program's expense. Spokesperson Candy Sims stated that for 10 years, the department sent testers to county jails one to four days weekly to offer inmates HIV screenings. Between 2010 and 2012, health department testers provided voluntary HIV rapid screening to 20,402 inmates; results indicated a positivity rate of 0.4 percent to 0.56 percent per year. The health department spent $83,748 on the program from 2012 to 2013.

According to Ron Gunzburger, general counsel for the Broward County Sheriff's Office, jail officials discovered in mid-October that the health department would not renew its annual contract to provide rapid testing in the jails. The jails' health services contractor, Armor Correctional Health Services, would provide conventional screening to inmates who requested HIV testing. Results from conventional testing were available typically within 24-48 hours.

Anne Spaulding, assistant professor at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health, argued that conventional testing was not enough because 50 percent of inmates left the jail within 48 hours. Broward officials noted that the average jail stay was 35 days, but that included people with yearlong sentences. Spaulding noted that testing inmates affected community health because 95 percent of inmates returned to the community. According to Spaulding, public health authorities recommended continuing prison testing programs that yielded a .4 percent to .5 percent positivity rate.

Michael Kahane, chief of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation's southern bureau, noted that jail-based screening was the best chance to test the many inmates who had a history of mental illness, were transient, and lacked access to medical care. AIDS Healthcare Foundation would provide rapid testing for inmates if no other organization agreed to do so.