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EXP-NY-AIDS-NYT 06-25

NEW YORK CITY SEEKS HIV TESTS FOR ALL ADULTS IN BRONX

By ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS

(This article is part of TIMES EXPRESS. It is a condensed version of a story that will appear in tomorrow’s New York Times.)

c.2008 New York Times News Service

NEW YORK — The city health department here plans to announce on Thursday an ambitious three-year effort to give an HIV test to every adult living in the Bronx, which has a far higher death rate from AIDS than any other borough.

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The campaign will begin with a drive to make the voluntary testing routine in emergency rooms and storefront clinics, where city officials say that cumbersome consent procedures required by state law have deterred doctors from offering the tests.

"Routine would mean if you came into the emergency room for asthma or a broken leg, we test everyone for HIV, if they’re willing," the health commissioner, Thomas R. Frieden, said in an interview on Wednesday.

While Manhattan has long been the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic in New York, with the highest incidence of both AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes it, the Bronx, with its poorer population, has far more deaths from the disease.

Public health officials attribute this to people not being tested until it is too late to treat the virus effectively, thus turning a disease that can now be managed with medication into a death sentence.

Several AIDS experts said on Wednesday that the Bronx campaign was the most aggressive testing effort they could recall in the nation. Two years ago, the District of Columbia made a high-profile push to test 450,000 residents, enlisting celebrity endorsements and distributing 80,000 free testing kits, but the campaign resulted in only about 45,000 people being tested.

"What’s new here is that we are implementing it on this large a level," said Donna Futterman, director of the adolescent AIDS program at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, who helped New York develop the new program. "The Bronx has 1.3 million people. It’s bigger than most cities, bigger than Boston, bigger than Washington. We’re talking about a significant urban population."

City officials estimate that perhaps 40 percent of the 830,000 people ages 18 to 64 who live in the Bronx have been tested for HIV in the past year. That would leave some 500,000 to be tested over the next three years — or almost 500 a day — at one of 40 designated sites, including clinics, community centers, churches and hospital emergency rooms.

Dr. Monica Sweeney, an assistant health commissioner for HIV prevention, said the city had not appropriated any money specifically for the Bronx program, but would absorb the $12 cost of each test.

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