HIV, Minors and Confidentiality Laws

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This is a very gray, muddy area to tread in but due to the increasing infections of minors (under 18yrs of age) States are struggling with the rules about how to handle this issue.

A great blog by Sara Gorman is a PhD candidate at Harvard University, touches that issue but again, each State has different rules and guidelines to follow. The U.S. Office of National AIDS Policy estimates that half of all new HIV infections in the U.S. occur in people younger than 25. In 2010, there were 2, 266 new HIV infections diagnosed among individuals in the U.S. between the ages of 13 and 19. In 2008, an estimated 29,056 adolescents and young adults were living with HIV in the U.S. Although the CDC does not distinguish between minors under the age of 18 and young adults for surveillance purposes, high risk sexual behaviors have been shown to be prevalent among adolescents under the age of 18 and rising rates of HIV in this population have been associated with these behaviors.

Adolescents are also less likely than adults to be tested for HIV, indicating that the scope of the problem may be even larger than currently estimated. While it is estimated that between 66% and 80% of adults with HIV in the U.S. are aware of their status, only about 16% of adolescents living with HIV in the United States are cognizant of their illness.

A commitment to an AIDS-free generation means a commitment to protecting those most vulnerable to the disease. States should clarify their laws on minors’ right to consent to treatment for HIV and the confidentiality of HIV-related information. HIV should also be explicitly included in laws already in place in many states that allow minors to consent to testing and treatment for STIs. Allowing adolescents to consent to confidential testing and treatment may go a long way in reducing infection rates among youth in the U.S., bringing us one small step closer to realizing the dream of an AIDS-free generation.

What can be done to curb rates of HIV among adolescents in the U.S.? Moving away from abstinence-only sex education is one part of the solution. But another, and less frequently discussed, part of the solution is to change state laws that restrict the ability of minors to consent to testing and treatment for HIV. What do you think? Talk to your children about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases to inform and educate them.  Then make informed decisions.  Always check with your State Laws regarding confidentiality.

Tom Thayer


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