Name-Calling: For Minorities Already Mistrustful of Government, HIV Names Reporting Could Lead to Fewer People Getting Tested for the Disease

Article excerpt

For minorities already distrustful of government, HIV

names reporting could lead to fewer people getting

tested for the disease

If whites with HIV shudder at the

thought of Big Brother's punching

their names into a database that tracks

those infected, minorities with the

disease are rerunning scared. Indeed,

for some people, when it comes to mixing

government and health, two words come to

mind: Tuskegee experiment.

"The legacy of the Tuskegee experiment

still reverberates," observes A. Cornelius

Baker, the HIV-positive executive director

of the National Association of People With

AIDS in Washington, D.C., referring to a

syphilis study conducted from 1932 to 1972

in which 400 black men in Alabama were

denied treatment for the disease.

It wasn't until 1997, when President

Clinton called the experiment "shameful"

while addressing a group of the study's

participants and their families, that the

black community received an official

government apology. "In the African-American

community," says Baker, "trust is

very low."

Sometime during the next couple of

months, the Centers for Disease Control

and Prevention in Atlanta will issue a set of

recommendations on how state health

officials should conduct the reporting of

HIV cases. It is widely believed--and in

many cases feared--that the upcoming CDC

recommendations will push for a system of

HIV reporting that requires states to collect

names.

Meanwhile, Rep. Tom A. Coburn

(R-Okla.) has introduced a bill in Congress

that would not only mandate states to

report HIV infections but also require

partner notification and sexual-contact

tracing. The bill would also give health care

workers the right to deny care to anyone

who refuses to take an HIV test.

The result, say leaders of several

minority AIDS organizations, could be a

new wave of people opting not to get

tested. "Names reporting would have an

absolutely detrimental effect in the Latino

community," says Dennis deLeon. The HIV-positive

president of the Latino Commission on AIDS

in New York City. A December survey by

the commission found that while 88%

of Latinos would take an HIV test if

their names were not reported to any

government agency, only 28% would

do so if their names were reported in

the event they tested positive. However,

in a separate survey conducted by

the New York City Department of

Health, researchers found that only

22% of African-American and Hispanic

participants would avoid being tested

for HIV if their names were reported to

public health officials.

"There is tremendous fear of government,"

warns deLeon, adding that

the impact of names reporting in the

Latino community could be felt in ways

that the out gay community does not

imagine. "In the gay community there

is a culture of support" for HIV-positive

people, he says. "But in the Latino

community, people view an HIV-positive

diagnosis as very isolating. So people

would be much more cautious

about their names getting out because

of the cultural consequences."

In the book Latino Gay Men and

HIV: Culture, Sexuality, and Risk Behavior,

author Rafael M. Diaz, a professor

at the Center for AIDS Prevention

Studies at the University of California,

San Francisco, argues that oppressive

sociocultural factors and values such

as machismo, homophobia, family loyalty,

and sexual silence as well as

poverty and racism already interfere

with some gay Latinos' likelihood of

practicing safer sex. …