AIDS Coalition Urges Voluntary HIV Testing
Larson, Ruth, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
A coalition of AIDS groups reversed their long-standing opposition to AIDS testing yesterday and urged Americans to undergo voluntary testing in order to prevent further spread of the deadly virus among a new generation.
More than 30 AIDS groups called for "anonymous, confidential and private" HIV testing and lifting the federal ban on funding needle-exchange programs as part of a new "10-point plan to reinvigorate our national commitment to HIV prevention."
They also endorsed sophisticated marketing techniques to sell the prevention message and education programs in order to stem the spread of the disease, including teaching abstinence and putting the AIDS hot line on the Internet.
"If there were a medical vaccine for AIDS, imagine the forces mobilized to deploy it," said Daniel Zingale, executive director of AIDS Action, a group that represents 2,400 AIDS organizations.
"The irony is that today we have a virtual vaccine - prevention and education - and those forces are paralyzed," he said at a news conference yesterday.
Young people will be the primary focus of the new education campaign. A recent study found that, while they represent half of all new HIV infections, only 10 percent thought they were at risk.
" `Just say no' doesn't work," Mr. Zingale said, referring to Nancy Reagan's anti-drug slogan in the 1980s. "People need to know what they can do, not only what they can't.
"Individual responsibility means that those who are HIV-positive or at risk for HIV have a responsibility to protect [their] own health and the health of others," he said.
The new emphasis on prevention and testing marks a reversal for many of the groups, which for years opposed AIDS testing and focused on the need for a cure.
Ronald S. Johnson of the Gay Men's Health Crisis of New York said that, when antibody tests for HIV first became available in 1985, many AIDS organizations advised their clients against taking the test for fear that the results would be misused.
"Today, in 1998, there has never been a better time to get tested for HIV," he said. "The HIV testing gap is the engine that drives this epidemic."
New safeguards now protect the rights of individuals with HIV or AIDS. For example, the Supreme Court recently rejected a challenge to the Americans with Disabilities Act involving a dentist's refusal to treat an HIV-infected patient.
"Fear of discrimination should no longer be a reason to reject or delay HIV testing," Mr. Johnson said. …