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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Group Opposes Reporting AIDS Cases By Name

AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, Inc. today announced its opposition to the Public Health Council's adoptionof a regulation requiring providers to report cases of HIV infection by name to the Department of Public Health, instead of the code that has beenin use since 1999.

In response to a threat by the federal Office of Health and Human Services to cut funds used to provide services to people living withHIV/AIDS, Paul Cote, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, decided last spring to abandon Massachusetts' name-based code reporting system.

"Although the threat was real, the commissioner's decision waspremature. The evidence is clear that Massachusetts' system producedreliable information on HIV cases and out performed many of the states that report HIV cases by name," says Denise McWilliams, director of public policy and legal affairs, AIDS Action. "This action is not about getting accurate information; our system already does that. This is about getting names."

The Department of Public Health has collected the names of those diagnosed with AIDS and other illnesses for years and there have been no reported breaches of the confidentiality of those persons. But the onset ofthe digital era has created new hazards to the privacy of people with reportable illnesses.

"Just in the last year, we have seen countless examples of the difficulty of protecting the identities of people in databases," says McWilliams. "The loss of a single laptop from the Department of Veteran Affairs put the privacy of thousands of people at risk. Unfortunately, most government agencies still apply pen and paper rules in a digital era. Today, the collection of names creates risks thatsimply didn't exist 10 years ago."

AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, Inc., (AAC), New England's first and largest AIDS organization, is dedicated to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS by preventing new infections and optimizing the health of thosealready infected.

AAC provides free confidential services to more than2,500 men and women already living with HIV/AIDS, as well as conductsextensive educational and prevention outreach to those at risk ofinfection. AAC runs the only statewide AIDS Hotline (1.800.235.2331), Hepatitis Hotline (1.888.443.4372) and Pharmacy Access Hotline(1.800.988.5209). AAC also advocates for effective science-based prevention programs.

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