New California HIV Tracking Rules to Face ‘Public Scrutiny’ During Upcoming Public Hearing
California health officials are "poised" to enact new rules that would establish a system for reporting HIV cases, the Sacramento Bee reports. The new rules will face "public scrutiny" during a May 16 public hearing. Previous legislative efforts to implement an HIV reporting system have "failed," due in part to concerns about using a names-based system. But the new rules would track HIV cases using alphanumeric codes instead of names and also would require reporting of patients' gender, race or ethnicity, and age and information on "how they likely became infected" with HIV. However, some say that a names-based reporting system would enable the state to "better prevent spread of the disease," while others maintain that even the encrypted case reports could "spawn discrimination and frighten infected people away from services," the Bee reports.
Debating the System
Proponents of the new rules say that without a reporting system that provides an accurate estimate of the state's infected population, health providers "can't adequately target prevention and treatment efforts." Dr. Neill Flynn, who cares for people with HIV/AIDS at the University of California-Davis Medical Center and the Center for AIDS Research, Education and Services, said, "California needs to know in advance how much money is going to be needed, what kind of resources and where in the state they are going to be needed." Vanessa Baird, assistant chief of the state Office of AIDS, added, "If California does not have an efficient HIV-reporting system, it could mean our data is not representative of our epidemic, and we could lose funds." The Bee reports that without a reporting system in place, health officials can "only guess" how much of the population is infected and how much funding is needed. For example, Sacramento County is known to have relatively high STD rates, which health officials have assumed "signif[ies] greater HIV numbers." But "no one knows for sure," health officer Glennah Trochet said. Some HIV/AIDS advocates oppose any HIV reporting system. Fernando Gomez Benitez, director of the HIV clinic at the Mission Neighborhood Health Center in San Francisco, said reporting requirements may "make it even harder to get his mostly Latino clients in to testing and treatment." He added, "We really are concerned [the rules are] going to be another barrier to a population that already has a stigma around HIV" (Griffith, Sacramento Bee, 4/25).