Pennsylvania’s New Confidential, Names-Based HIV Reporting System to Take Effect Next Month
Pennsylvania will implement a new confidential, names-based HIV reporting plan next month, the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader reports. The regulations, which take effect Oct. 18, require laboratories, testing sites and doctors to share HIV case data with state health officials (Harper, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, 9/10). Pennsylvania has used a names-based reporting system for 20 years to report state AIDS cases (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/10). The state plans to collect HIV case information dating back to 2000. Richard McGarvey, a spokesperson for the state Department of Health, said that the HIV reporting system will help officials track the spread of the disease through certain populations. Officials said that AIDS case data can be inaccurate because the figures can be between two and 10 years old and because HIV in some people may take a long time to progress to AIDS. "You're better able to target your prevention and education work" with HIV statistics, McGarvey said. Health workers and AIDS groups say they hope that up-to-date data on HIV infections will help officials allocate funding where it is needed. Carol Houssock, director of HIV programs for the United Way of Wyoming Valley, said that Northeastern Pennsylvania, for example, needs more funding because the region has experienced an influx of HIV-positive people migrating from cities. "I think the effect [of the reporting system] down the road would probably mean more money for everybody if the funding will follow where the disease is detected and diagnosed. Right now it's where AIDS is," Houssock said.
Questions Over Privacy, Efficacy
While many health officials and case workers support the new system, some advocates question whether confidentially disclosing the names of HIV-positive individuals to health authorities might violate privacy laws or scare people away from getting tested for the virus. Andrew Buleza, president and co-founder of We Care HIV/AIDS Support Network in Wilkes-Barre, said he is concerned that people will shy away from getting tested out of fears that "the state now will identify them as HIV-positive." JoAnn Heckman, a case manager for Catholic Social Services in Scranton, added that while an HIV reporting system will help track HIV infection, it will not account for the population of HIV-positive people who have never been tested for the virus (Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, 9/10).