ILLINOIS: Health Department OKs Coded HIV Reporting
In a decision hailed as a victory for AIDS advocates, the Illinois Public Health Department voted yesterday to report cases of HIV to local and state health departments by a unique numerical code rather than by the names of infected individuals. The decision is a "complete about-face" for the state, which had earlier released a names-based reporting proposal, only to come under "tremendous pressure from physicians and activists" to scrap the system. The Chicago Tribune reports that Illinois officials acknowledged the concerns of AIDS organizations that names-based reporting could breach patients' confidentiality and discourage individuals from undergoing HIV testing. They agreed to "a compromise between activists' concerns and their own need to track the disease," however, should the unique-identifier pilot program prove insufficient by July 1, 2001, the state will switch to names-based reporting. State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D), who sat on a task force comprised of "advocacy, public health, physician, legal and other groups" charged with hashing out the issue, said, "I think when you discuss the issue of surveillance and the issue of access to treatment, you have to strike a very delicate balance. I think this will strike that balance."
What's In A Name?
Mark Ishaug, executive director of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, commended the new program, but called for officials to ensure that physicians provide HIV counseling services. "It's about provider education, it's not about collecting names. This is basically what the AIDS community has been arguing we needed to implement for years," he said. Jose Zuniga, deputy director of the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care, praised the unique identifier program "not only for epidemiological reasons but also when advocating for the expansion of state programs. It's important to have a real number attached to the request rather than to have a best guess." The plan will move to a legislative committee for review; if it is approved it will be launched in July of next year (Parsons/Christian, 9/25).