FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The ACLU's comments came as the Health and Environment Subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee held a hearing on preventing the transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The committee is expected to focus attention on issues raised by a bill introduced by Rep. Tom Coburn, R-OK, who sits on the panel. Coburn's bill -- the so-called "HIV Prevention Act" -- has been criticized by the ACLU and many public health organizations who believe it would violate civil liberties and jeopardize public safety by ignoring guidelines long established by public health officials.
In testimony submitted to the subcommittee, Christopher E. Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel whose responsibilities include the rights of people with HIV and AIDS, said that Coburn's proposal and other similar measures would sacrifice privacy and jeopardize public health.
"Study after study has demonstrated that we must maintain the confidentiality of people who test positive for HIV if we hope to encourage widespread testing," Anders said.
Anders' testimony was largely drawn from a recent ACLU report, HIV Surveillance and Name Reporting: A Public Health Case for Protecting Civil Liberties. The 22-page report can be found in its entirety on the ACLU web site.
"If Congress eliminates or weakens confidentiality protections, it will destroy public health efforts to prevent the spread of HIV," Anders said. "Studies have shown that the elimination of anonymous testing leads to a sharp drop in the number of people seeking HIV tests and obtaining treatment. That is the wrong result when we now have several very promising new HIV drugs."
Anders said that as long as HIV-positive individuals face discrimination from employers, landlords and insurance companies they will not agree to be tested unless they can assure their privacy will be protected.
"Because name reporting discourages testing, it is not good public policy," Anders said. "Congress should continue its long-standing practice of leaving the difficult and complex task of HIV prevention to the public health officials who are experts on how to combat this epidemic."