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Bronx wants HIV tests for all adults in borough

/ Source: The Associated Press

Health officials are trying to persuade doctors to offer HIV tests to nearly every patient in a New York City community hit harder than most by AIDS.

Under a new program announced Thursday, officials have set an ambitious goal of testing a quarter million adults in the Bronx, one of five boroughs that make up New York City, within three years.

“We need every single individual to know their status,” said Dr. Monica Sweeney, an assistant health commissioner who specializes in HIV prevention.

Like dozens of other states, New York now requires doctors to obtain a patient’s written consent and provide a brief counseling session before giving them a test for the AIDS virus, a process that can take up to 20 minutes. That’s enough to deter doctors and nurses from suggesting HIV tests to patients routinely, according to the city.

Now officials want health clinics to offer the tests to anyone who seeks care, even for something as simple as a broken wrist.

Federal health officials recommended routine HIV testing for all Americans ages 13 to 64 nearly two years ago, but the effort has stalled. Some doctors have questioned whether so much testing is necessary, or worth the bureaucratic cost.

HIV testing in the Bronx is already fairly widespread. Nearly 7 of 10 Bronx adults have been tested at least once in their lifetime. But as many as 250,000 adults have never been tested, and statistics indicate that many are diagnosed far too late.

AIDS killed 357 residents of the borough in 2006, about a third of all AIDS deaths in the city.

City health officials have also urged changes in state law that would do away with both the consent form and the mandated counseling sessions, arguing that they have little benefit. Those changes have been opposed by some AIDS activists.

“We find that period of time extremely useful,” said Marjorie Hill, chief executive officer of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

She said it gives doctors a time to talk with patients about ways to avoid HIV, or deal with an HIV infection.