Georgia Set To Adopt Names-Based HIV Reporting System; AIDS Advocates Say System Will Jeopardize Confidentiality
Georgia -- the only state that does not have a system of collecting HIV case data with personal identifiers -- on Monday announced plans to establish a names-based HIV reporting system, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports. However, AIDS advocates said that the plan to use patients' names will jeopardize confidentiality and will discourage people from getting tested. The state Division of Public Health said that the current system of tracking HIV cases without personal identifiers, such as a patient's name or a unique identifying code, is not useful because the federal government requires more detailed information when determining state AIDS funding levels. In addition, under the current system, state officials are unable to determine whether two sets of similar demographic information represent two different HIV-positive people or one person who took two HIV tests, Dr. Luke Shouse, the state's HIV/AIDS surveillance coordinator, said. Under the new system, doctors will be required to report the names of people who test positive for HIV. Test results will remain confidential and only the health department will have access to the names, health officials said (Yee, AP/Long Island Newsday, 8/14). Thirty-five states use names to track HIV; 13 rely on codes, and New Hampshire allows cases to be reported with or without a name. The health department later this month will offer details of the plan, followed by a 30-day public comment period, according to Shouse (Wahlberg, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 8/14). Health officials hope to implement the program by the end of the year, but the proposal first must be approved by the Department of Human Resources, the parent agency of the health division (AP/Long Island Newsday, 8/14).
Many AIDS advocates said that the names-based reporting system will make people afraid to be tested for the disease, the Savannah Morning News reports. "People whom you really need to test will become fearful. It will be difficult for a community-based organization to reach them," Pandora Singleton, executive director of Project Azuka, a Savannah, Ga.-based group that works to prevent HIV among women, said (Lippincott Peterson, Savannah Morning News, 8/13). "A significant portion of our community would stay away out of fear," Kevin Clark, Chatham County director of Georgia Equality, a statewide gay-rights group, said (AP/Long Island Newsday, 8/14). Dr. Melinda Rowe, Chatham County health director expressed support for the system, saying that the state "cannot afford to not get funding." Shouse, speaking at a meeting of the statewide HIV Prevention Community Planning Group this week, offered studies that show that similar reporting systems in other states did not result in serious reductions in the number of people seeking HIV testing. In addition, Shouse said that if names were collected, some state-funded, anonymous testing centers would remain open (Savannah Morning News, 8/13).