The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unveiled a new HIV/AIDS prevention strategy Thursday that aims to make HIV antibody testing a part of routine health care offered by doctors and clinics around the country, the Los Angeles Times reports. The strategy would shift the onus of HIV testing from patients requesting the tests to doctors who regularly recommend that all of their patients be screened for HIV infection. The CDC also recommends that testing become mandatory for pregnant women and that the tests not be given only if a woman specifically opts out. Currently, testing is recommended, but pregnant women must give their consent before being screened--what the CDC describes as an "opt-in" method.
The new CDC plan also urges the widespread use of a new rapid HIV test that can produce results in about 20 minutes to help health care providers identify the estimated 200,000 HIV-positive Americans who are unaware that they carry the virus. President Bush in February recommended that the OraQuick HIV test, developed by OraSure Technologies, be made available to more than 100,000 doctors' offices and health clinics around the country, including smaller outreach clinics and mobile testing sites. The CDC wants to expand on Bush's plan to offer the test in all federally funded clinics as well as in such locales as homeless shelters, jails, and substance-abuse treatment centers.
Another component of the new campaign calls for increased emphasis on HIV prevention efforts aimed at people already infected with the virus, CDC director Julie Gerberding said. To date, most HIV prevention efforts around the country have focused on encouraging HIV-negative people to protect themselves from the virus. But the federal agency is advocating devoting more resources to campaigns that encourage people who know they are infected to keep their sex partners safe from infection.
The new CDC plan is a "much more aggressive approach toward HIV prevention and a long time in coming," said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "We know from experience that the vast majority of people, when they know they're infected, become much more careful with their sexual partners. Testing is really the gateway to a realization of a problem."
AIDS activists welcomed the new guidelines. Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said making HIV testing part of routine health care will help strip away some of the stigma associated with offering the tests primarily to members of groups deemed at risk for infection, like gay men and injection-drug users. "We're reinforcing the stigma of AIDS by saying it has to be treated differently and by saying it has to be hidden," he said. Tom Coburn, cochair of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS, also praised the new CDC recommendations. "This new initiative will work to stop HIV in its tracks by identifying those who are infected earlier and empowering these individuals to protect their own health and to prevent passing the virus on to others," he said in a press release.