AIDS: CDC Testing Practice Attacked By Congressman
Rep. Tom Coburn (R-OK) "accused [Centers for Disease Control] officials Thursday of reviving an unethical practice of anonymous testing for the AIDS virus without informing patients if they test positive," the Tulsa World reports. Contending that "Congress had been led to believe such tests had been discontinued," he called the CDC testing practice a "scandal." As "one of a handful of medical doctors in Congress," Coburn denounced the blind testing and "promot[ed] his AIDS prevention bill, which has drawn criticism from those who believe it will violate privacy rights and impose costly mandates on states." The Tulsa World notes that Coburn, joined by Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), last fall sent a letter to the CDC opposing blind testing on pregnant women and newborns and expressing concern that the CDC had been using the tests in prisons and certain hospitals. The two lawmakers requested a list of the 88 sites "where [the CDC] is supporting such testing," writing that they "feel such tests are unethical because they deny those who test positive the knowledge of their status and thus prevent them from seeking medical care which can improve their lives and taking precautions to prevent infecting others."
In a return letter dated January 28, CDC Associate Director Helene Gayle wrote that blind testing was in practice "at clinics treating sexually transmitted diseases, drug abuse and adolescents," but it was not conducted on prisoners or newborns. She agreed that the testing provides essential information for the nation to respond to the AIDS epidemic. "The surveys are limited in number ... and are focused on high-risk populations where changes in the epidemic might be expected to be detectable first," she wrote. "Most importantly, the surveys are conducted in facilities with a policy of offering counseling and voluntary HIV testing to all patients," she wrote. She further noted that the testing is considered "standard practice" in the scientific community. However, she said the CDC is "assessing the role of the testing in light of the new approaches to prevention and treatment of AIDS."
At yesterday's House hearing, Coburn promoted his own HIV prevention bill, saying "it could cut the number of new HIV infections per year in half, which would reduce costs associated with HIV by $2.4 billion" (Myers, 2/6).