Eleven of Thirteen Councilmembers Oppose HIV Names Reporting
[Note: The following letter, coordinated by D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans, demonstrates that the opponents of names-based HIV reporting including GLAA and many others around the District and the nation have overwhelming Council support. Eleven votes represents two votes more than are needed to override a mayoral veto. Councilmembers Orange and Schwartz were out of town when this letter was being circulated, and could not be reached before this letter was sent to Mayor Anthony Williams. Special thanks go to John Ralls of Councilmember Evans' staff for his timely efforts on this matter.]
July 27, 1999
Mayor, District of Columbia
One Judiciary Square
441 4th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20001
Dear Mayor Williams:
We write to express our extreme concern over the continued actions by the D.C. Agency for HIV/AIDS (AHA) to institute a names-based HIV reporting system in the District of Columbia. We ask for your immediate leadership to reverse these efforts. This request follows a similar request made to you by Councilmember Catania during the July 13 breakfast meeting.
Simply put, names-based HIV reporting will not provide the much hoped for results of accurate and representative data about the rate of HIV in the District. Studies show those who take HIV tests typically delay testing until they become sick and are no more than a few years from an AIDS diagnosis. As a result, names-based HIV reporting will always leave significant numbers of people uncounted. Before the District compromises the privacy rights of people with HIV, it is imperative that we examine carefully the experiences other jurisdictions have had with a unique identifier system. We believe a unique identifier system will provide a better indication of the scope of HIV incidence while lessening the kind of confidentiality concerns associated with a names-based HIV reporting system. We also know there are concerns about a loss of CDC funding in the event D.C. does not adopt a names-based HIV reporting system. However, according to many sources, this will not occur as long as D.C. institutes a comparable reporting system.
We can debate the merits of each of the above systems and again remind you that last summer and fall you strongly advocated a unique identifier system. One point that cannot be disputed is the simple fact that names-based HIV reporting discourages testing. There is overwhelming evidence that shows significant numbers of people avoid testing if their names will be reported. The end result is a dangerously skewed "snapshot" of the epidemic that defeats the stated purpose of pursuing the policy in the first place, namely gathering of reliable information. Even a CDC-sponsored study which aimed to discredit the concerns about names- based HIV reporting ended up showing that 20% of people interviewed identify names-based reporting as a factor preventing people from getting HIV tests.
True, AHA has proposed many safeguards (and implemented some) to protect confidentiality and ease concerns about names-based reporting. Nevertheless, given continued Congressional interference in local affairs (one need only look at needle exchanges and medical marijuana), there is no certainty AHA will be able to independently act on these promises. Regardless of AHA's intentions, Congress would be free to follow the example of other states in using official lists of persons with HIV for punitive purposes. We also note that a dozen states have abolished anonymous testing sites after implementing names reporting systems -- a situation that is not acceptable in the District of Columbia. Whatever the scenario, the end result is the same -- many people in need of testing will refuse due to uncertainty their confidentiality will be maintained.
In closing, we again ask you intervene to halt the efforts to implement a names-based HIV reporting system in D.C. and join us in redoubling our efforts to effectively address this epidemic.
Councilmember, Ward 2
Charlene Drew Jarvis
|Linda W. Cropp|