Georgia Board Has No Plan To View Public Comments on Names-Based HIV Reporting Plan
Georgia's Department of Human Resources, which last month solicited public comments on its proposal to implement a names-based HIV reporting system, has no plans to read the public comments, according to a department spokesperson, the Florida Times-Union reports (Basinger, Florida Times-Union, 10/24). Georgia -- the only state that does not have a system of collecting HIV case data with personal identifiers -- in August announced plans to establish a names-based HIV reporting system. The state has collected the names and addresses of all residents diagnosed with AIDS since the 1980s in order to track the progression of the disease and to verify whether an individual is eligible for state AIDS assistance. 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 HIV/AIDS funding levels. Under the new system, doctors would be required to report the names of people who test positive for HIV. Test results would remain confidential and only the health department would have access to the names. 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/1). During the public comment period -- Sept. 17 through Oct. 16 -- the department received 56 responses. However, Jed Nitzberg, spokesperson for the department, which is scheduled to give final approval to the plan in November, confirmed that the department has not requested to see the comments. Nitzberg said, "If the board needed to see the comments or wanted to see them, they could certainly request them. But, frankly, they have not expressed that interest at this point."
AIDS advocates said they do not understand why the board would neglect to read the public comments before making a final decision on the proposal, the Times-Union reports. "It's going to affect communities throughout the state of Georgia," Mark Douglas, director of My Brothaz HOME, a health resource facility for people with HIV/AIDS, said, adding that he thinks all of the comments should be made available to the general public. Luke Shouse, the state HIV/AIDS surveillance coordinator who is writing the plan, said that he has read all of the public comments and plans to write a report on them for review by the DHR board. DHR officials said that it is not uncommon for public comments to be summarized by health workers in lieu of providing copies of each letter to the board, according to the Times-Union (Florida Times-Union, 10/24).