Yesterday was world AIDS day, which gives us a chance to see how far we've come in the fight against the disease and how far we still have to go. Today I don't think an HIV baby has nearly as much trouble finding a foster home, since we know people can live alongside HIV positive people without becoming infected. Also, anti-HIV meds have been somewhat surprisingly successful, at least for those who can afford them. Did anyone really think Magic Johnson would still be alive in 2006 when he first announced his HIV status?
But we still have a ways to go. Too many people continue to be infected, and too many people cannot afford anti-HIV drugs, especially in developing countries. It seems to me that one problem in the fight against AIDS is the conflict between the individual's right to privacy and the public's right to health. An HIV positive patient can go to a surgeon for a problem not related to his HIV, say for a hernia repair or appendectomy, and he has no obligation to tell the surgeon that he is HIV positive. Sure, the surgeon and all health care workers should practice standard precautions against catching HIV, but the fact of the matter is that we're a little more careful when we know that someone is HIV positive versus when we don't know their HIV status.
If I know a mother of my patient is HIV positive, information I need to know to properly treat the baby, but the mother has not told the father of the baby, her sexual partner, her HIV status, I have no right to tell the father of the baby that mother is HIV positive even though that information could be life saving for him. It seems like an unlikely scenario, but I'm certain it happens, and is that really right? If the mother refuses to tell her sexual partner that she is HIV positive, her right to privacy, which prevents us from notifying her partner, trumps the public's right to health by enabling the partner to contract HIV. Sure, the county public health agency is supposed to help with this, but it doesn't always work. I'm all in favor of privacy rights, but it seems that in this situation a little more emphasis on public health and less on individual rights might be appropriate.
P.S. Fat Doctor has a new Change of Shift up.