GMHC Releases Policy Analysis on HIV Testing

New York, NY -- Today, Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) released a comprehensive policy analysis on HIV testing and legislative efforts to expand access to testing. The report, entitled HIV Testing and Written, Informed Consent: An Analysis of Current Debates, is released as legislative proposals to expand HIV testing are being debated at the local, state and federal level. GMHC's report argues forcefully for maintaining the current laws which protect patients and health care providers. The report also refutes arguments that written, informed consent creates a barrier to HIV testing.

"New York State public health laws contain some of the strongest provisions for patient and provider protection, requiring written, informed consent as a condition for HIV testing," said Marjorie J. Hill, PhD, Chief Executive Officer of GMHC. "We know these protections work and are not an obstacle for testing more individuals. The real barriers include the failure of health care providers to offer the test, lack of access to rapid testing, and stigma associated with HIV and testing. Written, informed consent ensures that patients understand the full nature of HIV testing and transmission, and learn how to protect themselves and their partners."

Large public institutions, including the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation and the New York City Department of Corrections, have successfully implemented expansion of HIV testing while maintaining written, informed consent. These same institutions have seen exponential increases in the number of individuals tested. The number testing in the city's public hospital system jumped 116% from 2005 to 2007, while the number testing in city jails grew fourfold from 2003 to 2006.

The need for expanded offering of HIV testing is clear. One in four people living with HIV is unaware of his or her infection. Studies indicate that 50-70% of new infections are caused by people who are unaware of their HIV status and who have been infected themselves for less than two years.

"We have long believed that testing individuals for HIV acts as both treatment and prevention," added Dr. Hill. "Early detection of HIV serves to move people into proper care sooner and set them on a path to manage their HIV infection. Testing also provides an important opportunity for prevention education."

Two bills regarding HIV testing are currently pending in the New York State Legislature. GMHC supports efforts to routinize HIV testing and allow the universal offering of an HIV test in all diagnostic settings. GMHC is clear in its opposition to legislation that would dismantle written informed consent laws and patient/provider protections.

Click here to download a PDF of the analysis.

To read the complete analysis, click here.