Tests and Consequences

The Struggle Over HIV Information Goes On

Department of Health spokesperson Frances Tarlton insists that the reporting of partners is optional and that health workers will under no circumstances reveal the name of the person who reported the contact. "It will provide an easy way to notify partners because the health worker doesn't name or reveal anything about an individual no matter how many guesses a person might take," says Tarlton, adding that "HIV-infected people have an ethical responsibility to inform people they may have infected to allow them to be tested and get into early treatment."

Tarlton also notes that name reporting and contact tracing are standard for other sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea and syphilis. In health department programs that now respond to these other infectious diseases, about 80 percent of the people involved voluntarily name partners when asked, says Tarlton.

Indeed, supporters of partner notification and contact tracing often say that not to use these same practices for HIV infections constitutes a form of "AIDS exceptionalism." Yet some AIDS advocates, in turn, say this "exceptionalism" is justified by the special social risks that have so far been part and parcel of living with HIV. "AIDS isn't the same as other STDs," says Gery. "When's the last time you saw someone evicted because they had chlamydia?"


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