In January 1998, the Texas Department of Health proposed
reporting cases of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, by name. TDH implemented an experimental unique identifier in 1994 to track HIV. Since that time, TDH and the Stet for Disease Control have found that the method has not been reliable. The Texas Department of Health began collecting names of HIV-positive patients in March 1998.
Thirty-one states have a name-based reporting system for HIV cases. TDH maintains that the names reported will remain confidential, and anonymous testing will continue. TDH has agreed to implement the name reporting temporarily until it can be determined that the system is more reliable than the current method.
Name-based reporting without the resources to provide needed services is bad public health policy. Data collecting is not a solution or a cure. Our national efforts should focus more on providing care and treatment and preventing the spread of HIV disease.
Will reporting names really give information about preventative strategies and at-risk behaviors? If so, will state health officials and state legislators have the funding and the political courage to implement these strategies?
HIV discrimination is still prevalent. The fear among the public is not unfounded. In Florida in 1996, one county was ordered by the state to discontinue keeping illegal lists of HIV individuals. There were nearly 4,000 names on this list of people who were HIV-positive, and this was sent to two newspapers and the Department of Health. This list was alleged to have been posted at a gay bar by a public health worker. There were other reports in Florida of counties keeping illegal lists.
This issue is also at the forefront of some very critical discussion at the national level. A proposed law would mandate all states to report HIV by name and implement a national database for the names of the HIV-infected. The HIV Prevention Act would also allow the medical professionals to refuse to provide medical treatment if a patient refused an HIV test. The bill also stipulates mandatory partner notification and the criminalization of the intentional spreading of HIV.
Citizens should contact their representatives in Congress regarding the HIV Prevention Act of 1997 to inform them that the creation of a national database of all HIV-positive persons is unsafe within the current hostile political climate and that such a measure would greatly deter those most at-risk from seeking HIV testing.
To find your elected officials, contact www.capitol.state. tx.us. Your efforts are needed to make sure that public health policy on HIV/AIDS is based upon compassion and knowledge and not fear and political expediency.
L. Brooke Jenkins is A graduate student in social work.