New York, the state with the highest number of AIDS cases in the nation, may soon pass a bill aimed at reducing the number of HIV transmissions and the frequency with which AIDS-related deaths and hospitalizations occur.
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene says that AIDS is the third leading cause of death below age 65 in the city, and that it is the health problem with the largest racial disparity. According to the department, one in forty African Americans living in the city is infected with HIV.
The New York AIDS legislation that is now in front of Governor Paterson and which was drafted by Democrat Senator Thomas Duane and Democrat Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, would mandate that physicians routinely offer their patients HIV testing. It would also remove some of the barriers to that same testing that is currently in place due to a law that makes written consent mandatory.
The bill (S8227/A11487) has already passed in the State Senate and the State Assembly. It comes at a time when some local AIDS activists are expressing dissatisfaction with the National HIV/AIDS Strategy recently released by the White House.
The goals of President Obama’s new AIDS strategy, as explained by the Center for Disease Control, are to “reduc[e] the number of people who become infected with HIV; increas[e] access to care and improve[e] health outcomes for people living with HIV; and reduc[e] HIV-related health disparities.”
But while some activists applaud Obama for following through on his campaign promise to address the AIDS epidemic, other AIDS activists say that his plan does not go far enough. “The president’s plan sets insufficiently ambitious goals for reducing the number of annual HIV infections in the U.S.,” says a representative from Housing Works, a New York non-profit that fights against the crises of AIDS and homelessness. “At the same time, the plan fails to provide adequate funding to reach even the modest HIV prevention and treatment goals that it sets out.”
The proposed state legislation is expected to reduce the transmission of HIV in New York by making those who are HIV positive aware of their condition, and to reduce the amount of money the state spends on health care. The New York AIDS Coalition sees the legislation as a step in the right direction. “This bill will significantly decrease the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, while increasing the number of people tested each year,” says a NYAC representative. The coalition maintains that twenty-five percent of people living with HIV don’t know that they are infected, but that the new bill would identify people living with HIV sooner, get them into treatment faster, and therefore make them less likely to pass the disease to others. “By simply offering the test to virtually every patient as part of their routine care, regardless of their perceived risk,” says NYAC, “we will see the standard of care improve across the state. Now every New Yorker will know his or her HIV status, and will be better able to make informed decisions about their lives.”
Michael Simanowitz, a representative from the office of Democrat Assembly Member Nettie Mayersohn (who is one of the sponsors of the bill in the State Assembly), says that it is likely that Paterson will sign the AIDS legislation into law. “The governor has always shown support for this issue,” said Simanowitz, “so we’re hoping that he will sign the bill.”