Fearing Rise in HIV Infections, Philadelphia Proposes ‘Massive’ Public Awareness Campaign
Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Walter Tsou estimates that nearly 4,000 city residents are infected with HIV and are unaware of their serostatus, contributing to a rise in the city's HIV infection rate, the Philadelphia Daily News reports. Tsou is "deeply concerned" that this figure represents a "rise in unsafe behavior and a growing complacency among those most at risk" and will lead to "exploding rates of HIV within the next few years." Tsou told the City Council yesterday that later this year his department plans to launch a "massive public health media campaign" aimed at various groups "at risk" for HIV. The number of heterosexuals in the city with AIDS increased 17% between 1995 and 1997, and although homosexuals and intravenous drug users still account for 74% of all AIDS cases, heterosexuals constitute an "important new area" for targeting prevention, Tsou said.
Reporting System Proposal
Increasing the number of people tested for HIV and getting those who test positive into treatment is a "key" health department strategy for combating the spread of the virus. But the Daily News says that a proposed change in Pennsylvania's HIV reporting system could hinder that effort. The state currently requires health officials to report only cases of AIDS, not HIV infections. A proposed state rule would make HIV a reportable disease, and the names and test results of those testing positive would be recorded in state and federal databases. Although Tsou said he favors the proposal, many AIDS activists point out that people might forgo testing if they could not remain anonymous. Jane Shull, executive director of the AIDS service organization Philadelphia FIGHT, "urged" Philadelphia officials to encourage the state to adopt a "unique identifier" system that would use numerical codes, such as part of a Social Security number or a birth date, to record test results. An estimated 19 states use such coded systems, she said. The city health department has not yet taken an official position on the proposal, Joseph Cronauer, co-director of the AIDS Activities Coordinating Office, said (McDonald, Philadelphia Daily News, 5/2).