New York Times Examines HIV Prevalence Among Blacks, Women in New York
The New York Times on Saturday examined the "startling rates" of HIV prevalence and AIDS-related deaths among blacks in New York City, especially among black women. According to data recently released by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, about 50% of AIDS-related deaths in the city occur among blacks, who account for 25% of the city's population. In addition, black women account for 34% of the city's new AIDS cases -- an increase from 12% twenty years ago -- and approximately one in five black men ages 40 to 49 living in the city is HIV-positive, according to the Times. Statewide, girls and women account for 48% of new HIV cases among people ages 13 to 19, and HIV prevalence among black women is more than 27 times higher than prevalence among white women, according to a December 2005 report from the New York State AIDS Advisory Council. Some city health officials say the disproportionate prevalence rates found among minorities are a result of the "strong" stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in minority communities, difficulty encouraging people to seek testing and difficulty encouraging those who are HIV-positive to continue treatment, according to the Times (Santora, New York Times, 2/6). New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden last week called for changing state regulations on HIV/AIDS testing services to allow health officials to more aggressively test people for HIV/AIDS, as well as use information they already collect on HIV-positive people. New York City and the state collect data about HIV-positive people, but current laws prevent health officials from contacting patients or their physicians about treatment. Frieden also called for making testing for the virus a routine part of medical care and suggested requiring only verbal consent for HIV/AIDS testing services, rather than both written and verbal. He added that privacy will continue to be central to the proposed new initiatives (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/3).
Frieden's proposals "raise concerns about privacy that will need to be evaluated" by the state Legislature, but they "reflect the legitimate desire" to "gain new tools to rein in the stubbornly persistent AIDS epidemic," the Times editorial says. Although critics of Frieden's proposal to allow health officials to use data they collect about HIV-positive people say that patients could be "harassed" or that government officials might "second-guess" decisions made by a physician, "surely most patients would rather get life-extending treatments than languish in neglect," the editorial says. In addition, the Times says that although routine HIV testing could lead to a patient being "hoodwinked into taking a test they might otherwise shun," the proposal seems "reasonable" because it "might save some lives and alert people not to spread the virus" (New York Times, 2/6).