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KEEP AIDS CLINIC OPEN, HEALTH OFFICIALS URGE

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Utahns and people from other states may be able to continue to receive anonymous AIDS testing for another year at a Salt Lake clinic - a decision that received approval from the AIDS Advisory Committee Wednesday night and will be recommended to the Interim Health Committee of the Legislature next week.

Dr. Suzanne Dandoy, executive director of the Utah Department of Health, told the AIDS Advisory Committee that the decision was based on a one-year survey, which shows that the anonymous-testing clinic reaches a group of people that has a higher rate of being HIV positive than those visiting all other public testing centers in Utah.The survey compares statistics at Salt Lake City/County Health Department's anonymous and confidential centers, all public Utah testing centers and the private sector. It shows that 6 percent of those who tested anonymously were HIV positive, compared with 3 percent who entered the confidential testing site. Only 1 percent showed HIV positive at other public testing centers.

The data show the importance of an anonymous testing clinic, Dandoy said. It is "reaching a group of people who need to be tested and have a higher rate of positivity," she said. "It's an important group that shouldn't be missed."

In agreement is Lewis Garrett, deputy director of Family Health Services of the Salt Lake City County Health Department.

"It's a great thing that it's kept open," Garrett said. People engaged in high-risk behavior fear public chastisement and "are generally fearful of public knowledge. That disincentive will keep them away. We want to have a system with no built-in disincentive."

"It's in the public interest to know that they were infected" because behavior will change and partners can be protected, Garrett said.

This argument convinced Utah legislators, many of whom opposed an anonymous testing site a year ago, to compromise with the opening of only one anonymous AIDS testing site in the state.

At this site, 200 E. 600 South, people can walk in and pay $20 for a HIV test without revealing their names or addresses, Dandoy said. Rather, people are identified by a number, which is needed to receive test results. According to records, 666 took this route. The confidential site tested 1,922 people, while 886 tested at other public centers.

Although patrons never reveal their names, they are sometimes willing to give names of partners. However, more partners were named by those entering the confidential center.

"We've seen a gradual improvement in the partner index . . . at the anonymous clinic," Dandoy said.

Dandoy will recommend to the Interim Health Committee of the Legislature on Wednesday to continue the anonymous testing site.

"We can't let it close," Garrett said.

In addition to approving a second successive year for anonymous AIDS testing, the AIDS Advisory Committee also unanimously agreed to propose anti-discrimination legislation to protect individuals who are HIV positive.

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(Additional information)

Health Department proposals

Health Department officials are making the following legislative recommendations:

- Protections by the Utah Civil Rights Act should be extended to include the aged, handicapped and veterans. The term "handicap" should follow the Americans With Disabilities Act, currently pending before U.S. Congress.

- Extend the protections under the Rights and Privileges of Blind and Disabled Persons Act to individuals with HIV disease. This proposal reflects a 1988 bill that failed to pass the U.S. Senate. The protections included employment and housing for AIDS victims.

- Broaden the term "impairment" to reflect the language of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, if the "handicap" term fails to be broadened.

- Another legislative proposal approved by the committee will save Medicaid up to $448,800 yearly. The proposal, termed the Insurance Buy-In, will provide medical insurance to workers who quit their job because of AIDS. These employees who are provided medical care insurance as an employment benefit can have 18 more months of coverage after quitting their job, with costs paid by the State Health Department.

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