The decision, made on December 21, was made by Mark Wasserman, head of the Oregon Health Department, who announced that he would go ahead with mandatory names reporting for people who test positive for HIV. Hensen is just one of many outraged people. Virtually all of the HIV/AIDS advocacy groups in Portland are adamant in their opposition to the decision, which began as an administrative rules change three years ago.
"This decision shows a total disregard for the needs of minority communities," says Jack Cox, leader of the HIV Advocacy Council of Oregon and Southwest Washington. Cox and his group are concerned that this decision will have a serious impact on the minority populations of Oregon who are infected with the HIV virus. They argue that not only will these communities be intimidated out of being tested, but also if they are tested, they risk confidentiality breeches that could result in loss of insurance, health care, and employment. As estimated by the OHD, there are 65,000 Oregonians living with HIV, one-third of whom don't even know they have it.
Cox and his group have been instrumental in leading the charge against names reporting; in the past six months they've organized protests, distributed flyers, and protested at four public hearings held by the OHD. As a kind of compromise, Wasserman has delayed the implementation of names reporting until July, giving him and his staff six months to put in place a six-point system designed to increase public awareness about HIV and AIDS, train public health providers, and strengthen privacy laws.
"The plan does go a long way," concedes Cox. "But it's still a joke. Can we remedy this problem in six months? No way. This is not over, not at all." Cox and his group plan to continue protesting the decision by asking affected communities to end volunteer participation in Health Division Programs, Committees, Task Forces, and all those agencies supporting mandatory names reporting.
"The Health Division's destructive decision makes this indeed the darkest day of the year," writes Cox on a flyer he distributed at the press conference.