In order to protect the almost 40 million men, women and children living with HIV from potential stigma and discrimination, the United Nations agency dealing with AIDS today released new guidelines to ensure that patient confidentiality is not compromised in the process of collecting and storing information on the virus.
UNAIDS Senior Technical Officer Eddy Beck said the Interim Guidelines on Protecting the Confidentiality and Security of HIV Information were developed through a workshop supported by the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
According to the guidelines, using data for public health goals must be balanced against the rights of individuals to privacy and confidentiality. Among the recommendations, they call for countries to adopt privacy and confidentiality laws.
Some of the main recommendations from the guidelines include:
* Health data needs to improve health and reduce harm for all people. Policies, procedures, and technical methods must be balanced to protect both;
* Individual and public rights must be balanced, and should be based on human rights principles;
* Within countries, privacy and confidentiality laws should be developed and put in place; relevant parameters of privacy or confidentiality laws must be reviewed and known by all persons accessing health data;
* The development and review of laws and procedures related to HIV information needs active participation from relevant stakeholders, including people living with and affected by HIV, health care professionals, and legal and ethical experts.
Funding organisations should comply with these guidelines and make funding available to implement them.
Maintaining security and confidentiality must be a condition for funding.
Together, stigma and discrimination constitute one of the greatest barriers to dealing effectively with the epidemic, according to UNAIDS. They discourage governments from taking timely action against AIDS, and they deter individuals from finding out about their HIV status.
They also inhibit those who know they are infected from sharing their diagnosis and taking action to protect others and from seeking treatment and care for themselves, the agency said.
AIDS or HIV is the leading killer in today's world with more and more cases being reported from all over the world.
In the US the government has declared June 27 as the national HIV testing day.
In conjunction with the national goal of promoting public awareness and prevention of HIV, the Department of Health in differents are encouraging all sexually active citizens to get tested for HIV.
'Getting people tested is the first step in linking infected people to appropriate care, treatment and prevention services,' said Lynda Kettinger, director of DHEC's STD/HIV Division. 'This year's theme, 'Take the Test, Take Control,' encourages people at high risk for HIV to learn their status and gain access to the most appropriate system of care if they are infected.'
The Department provides free, confidential testing across the state in local county health department locations. The test will produce results in less than a half-hour instead of the usual week or two.
'That's the 20-minute finger-stick blood test,' she said, noting that traditional intravenous needle testing will also be available at the health department.
Nationwide, the largest number of HIV/AIDS cases occurred among persons aged 35-39 years and accounted for 16% of all cases diagnosed in 2005. However, from 2001-2005, a significant increase of HIV/AIDS was seen among the 15-34 age group. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 252,000 and 315,000 out of more than 1.039 million HIV-positive individuals nationwide are unaware that they have HIV.
An increasing number of cases have been reported among all races and ethnicities, with the sharpest increase among African Americans.
"The earlier people know their status, the quicker they can begin treatment, which leads to longer and healthier lives.
With the UNAIDS stressing the need for patient confidentiality, people testing for HIV need not fear any social stigma.