Garcia Legislation Will Save Lives

Over the weekend, Governor Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 682 into law. The new law, authored by Assemblywomen Bonnie Garcia and Patty Berg and Assemblyman Jared Huffman, will make HIV screening a routine part of healthcare visits and help remove the stigma associated with the testing.

“This new law can’t come soon enough,” said Assemblywoman Garcia. “Working in a bi-partisan effort we were able to pass legislation that will save the lives of many Californians by providing people with the information and treatment they need.”

The key to reducing the spread of HIV and prolonging the life of those infected is early detection. Unfortunately, many women are afraid to ask their doctor for testing, or they don’t believe they’re at risk.

“HIV has always been a threat to the greater population. But stigma and discrimination among some groups of those most at-risk has kept many of them from getting tested or seeking care,” said David Brinkman, Executive Director of Desert AIDS Project in Palm Springs. “As long as individual rights to privacy are respected, we believe that it is in everyone’s best interest to know their HIV status, so that they can make the most intelligent decisions possible about their health care.”

According to the California State Office of AIDS, as many as 40,000 Californians are unaware they are living with HIV. HIV and AIDS is not a homo-sexual, male disease the way it has been perceived for many years. 26% of all new cases are women and 82% are Latinos and African Americans. HIV infection is the fourth leading cause of death among all women between the ages of 35–44, and the leading cause of death for African American women aged 25–34. It is also rated among the four leading causes of death for Hispanic women aged 35–44.

There are many reasons fewer women seek care, or even dare to raise the issue of getting tested for HIV, with their doctors—especially in communities where social and cultural norms may discourage women from speaking out about their sexuality. By making HIV screening a routine part of healthcare visits, AB 682 will eliminate the fear many women have of asking to be tested.

AB 682 will take effect January 1, 2008.