HIV-REPORTING: WA Adopts Names-Based System
Washington State's Board of Health Wednesday adopted a names-based HIV reporting policy after months of wrangling with opponents to hash out a final "compromise" that in the end failed to quell protests, the AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports. Under the new surveillance system expected to take effect Sept. 1, anonymous testing will still be available, but the names of people testing positive for HIV will be forwarded to county health officials, changed to unique codes and passed on to the state Department of Health. Names will remain on record at the county health department for 90 days, after which they will be purged from the files. The names-based scheme, considered a "compromise," did not sit well with three protestors at Wednesday's health board meeting. Several members of "Resist the List" donned T-shirts bearing their slogan and disrupted the meeting with chants of "We will not be silent when the public health turns violent!" and "Hitler had a list. Resist the list!" (George, AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 7/15). The demonstrators "prepared to file a lawsuit in federal court" yesterday to block the new regulation, arguing that HIV-positive residents will avoid the medical system for fear of "intentional or unintentional" release of their names and HIV status. The suit contends that "HIV-positive individuals would unconstitutionally be denied the right to privacy in making health care decisions and that the regulation unduly burdens such individuals" (King, Seattle Times, 7/15).
It's Working Already!!
Dismissing the privacy concerns as unfounded, state Health Department Secretary Mary Selecky pointed to Washington's success with names-based AIDS reporting. "Public health has a very long tradition of dealing with lots of information about people confidentially," she said. The Northwest AIDS Foundation, which opposes names-based reporting, nonetheless helped broker a compromise and quashed most opposition by endorsing "the final product as a balance between the need for better health data and the privacy concerns of those infected" (AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 7/15). NAF Executive Director Terry Stone added, "Washington state's new HIV surveillance plan represents a true collaboration between public health officials and community-based organizations (NAF release, 7/15). The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that it is unclear how the decision will impact Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health, which has vowed to retain the names of HIV-infected people even if the state requires the records be destroyed (7/15). Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department Director Dr. Federico Cruz-Uribe, a vocal opponent of the state strategy, was noticeably absent from the Wednesday board meeting. In lamenting that the state sidelined his county's policy of maintaining the list of HIV-infected resident indefinitely, Cruz-Uribe said that "he assumes the local board will want him to continue to approach AIDS as aggressively as possible." An attorney for the state health board emphasized that the state policy will override all local policy (Tatko, Tacoma News Tribune, 7/15).