Sunday, December 4, 2005

State considers return to name-based HIV reporting

Local health officials, who face losing as much as $5 million for the treatment and prevention of HIV because the CDC doen't consider our state's name-to-code system to be as accurate or reliable, are moving to adopt a name-based HIV reporting system.

Local HIV/AIDS organizations beleive the system works just fine the way it is.

Gay City: "The CDC is basically forcing this. We can go to the public hearing and we can testify, but the funds are contingent on this for Ryan White dollars," said said Fred Swanson, executive director of Gay City. "It is unrealistic to think that the State of Washington will take a stand and say, 'We will give up all our Ryan White CARE dollars or prevention dollars because we think this thing is stupid.' This is another policy coming down from the federal government that seems to make no sense whatsoever."

POCAAN: "This is another thing that may deter people of color from getting tested," said People of Color Against AIDS Network's Operations Manager Kiande Jakaba. "There is a lot of stigma that comes with being positive. A lot of our communities don't necessarily have positive conversations about HIV, sexuality and drug use and all the things associated with that. Those people tend to be cast aside. So, it is going to be an issue for them."

After the Board of Health voted to enact name-based HIV reporting on July 14, 1999, AIDS advocates put up fierce resistance and, Resist the List, who formed to organize opposition to name-based HIV reporting, even filed a lawsuit. At the time, the states largest AIDS service organizations, including the United Communities Against AIDS Network in Olympia; the Northwest AIDS Foundation in Seattle; the Pierce County AIDS Foundation in Tacoma; the Spokane AIDS Network in Spokane; and People of Color Against AIDS Network all favored a code-based or name-to-code system. Former Governor Gary Locke's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS also voted 14 to 4 in favor of using coded identifiers.

As Sally Clark, a long time AIDS advocate and current director of community resources at Lifelong AIDS Alliance, puts it: "The community was mainly against names-based reporting and strongly favored a name-to-code option," said Clark.

On its website, Lambda Legal's AIDS Project Director's update from June 1998 makes a compelling case against name-based HIV reporting:

"For those who mistrust government or its enthusiasm for protecting them -- and gay men of all races and people of color historically have good reason to do so -- reassurances about the safety of surveillance data are unpersuasive," wrote Catherine Hanssens. "There also is ample reason to fear that the collection of names could be used, with the wave of a legislative pen, for purposes beyond monitoring the epidemic. There already are disturbing instances of the easy legislative shift to misuse of AIDS-related surveillance data.

"Adoption of any system of HIV surveillance which ignores the views of the communities the system targets, or which further discourages people at risk of infection from getting tested, is doomed to failure. It is critical that a proposal to radically change current HIV surveillance respect that reality."

The community will have an opportunity to have its say during a public hearing on the proposed changes to be held at the Seattle Central Community College on Monday, December 12, from 7 - 9 p.m. in Room 3211.

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