'Confidential,' 'anonymous' HIV tests separate meanings


I am writing to respond to some misinformation that was presented in the article entitled "An offering of support" that appeared in the Sept. 26 issue of the Arizona Daily Wildcat. In the discussion about HIV testing, the article confused anonymous and confidential testing and also gave erroneous information on how client-patient results are handled.

In anonymous HIV testing, the client-patient is not required to reveal their true identity, even if their results come back positive. The only places in Arizona which can, by law, offer anonymous testing are those affiliated with the county health departments. All other clinics or health-related facilities offer confidential HIV counseling and testing.

In confidential HIV testing, the true identity of the client-patient is known to the counselor. However, only if the test results come back positive is the reporting of these results required by law in Arizona. That report goes only to the State Health Department and there it triggers two things to happen. First, the person who tested positive is contacted to make sure they have information about medical care and other support services available in their locale. Secondly, information is gathered from that person about personal contacts who may also be at risk for HIV infection so that the health department can contact these individuals and assist them in getting tested. When contact is made with these at-risk individuals by the health department, the name of the person who originally tested positive is not revealed. Once all of the at-risk individuals have been contacted, the personal identifying information is removed from the original report from the testing facility and placed in a secured file. At no time is the testing facility or the health department able to release that information to anyone else without the full written consent of the person who was tested.

Figures on the number of people in the state testing positive are sent to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta by the State Health Department on a regular basis. This is done so the CDC can monitor disease trends and assess how well national and local prevention efforts are doing. Federal assistance funds to the states for HIV-related services are also based on these statistics. There is no personal identifying information sent as part of this data exchange.

I felt it was important to clarify this situation because misinformation like that which appeared in this article is a major deterrent to people who are considering HIV testing.

Harry McDermott, M.D.

Student Health Service

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