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AIDS Group opposes NYC health official Thomas Frieden for CDC job But Others Support Him
 
 
  By DAVID B. CARUSO
 
NEW YORK (AP) - On paper, New York City's health commissioner looks like the kind of doctor an AIDS activist would love.
 
In his seven years on the job, Dr. Thomas Frieden has championed efforts to boost the number of New Yorkers getting HIV tests, promoted needle exchange programs, distributed millions of free condoms and earned praise for letting science - not politics - drive his agenda.
 
Yet on Tuesday, a group of AIDS activists gathered at City Hall to denounce Frieden as a poor candidate to lead the country's top public health agency, the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
 
Charles King, president of the nonprofit group Housing Works, said a Frieden appointment to the CDC would be a "devastating blow to combating HIV/AIDS in the U.S."
 
Regina Quattrochi, chief executive of Bailey House, an organization that serves homeless people with HIV, accused Frieden of being too autocratic and inflexible for the post.
 
"I think the people of this country have had enough of that type of leadership," she said.
 
Their chief complaint involved a cornerstone of Frieden's HIV policy: his campaign to alter medical-privacy laws passed in the 1980s that created a special process for obtaining patient consent for an HIV test.
 
In New York, as in many other states, a health care provider must get a patient's written consent and provide a brief counseling session before giving them a test for the AIDS virus.
 
The process was originally created at the insistence of AIDS activists, at a time when a positive HIV test was tantamount to a death sentence. In those early days of the epidemic, there was no treatment for the disease, and people who tested positive could face so much discrimination that activists said people should have the right to turn a test down.
 
Since then, the stigma has diminished, but some AIDS support groups have continued to favor the consent procedures, especially the counseling requirement.
 
Frieden and many other public health experts don't like those additional steps, saying they unnecessarily complicate a test that should be as easy to get as a cholesterol check.
 
The CDC recommended in 2006 that states drop such requirements and encourage routine HIV testing routine for all Americans ages 13 to 64.
 
Other AIDS activists familiar with Frieden's record expressed dismay over the criticism, saying he had an exemplary record.
 
"I've seen commissioners come and go, and he's certainly been one of the best," said Debra Fraser-Howze, former president of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS.
 
Frieden is one of several health officials of national prominence who have been mentioned as good choices for the job of CDC director. Others include Dr. Helene Gayle, a former CDC administrator now with CARE International; Dr. Margaret Hamburg, a former Health and Human Services official now with the Global Health and Security Initiative; and Dr. James Marks, a former CDC administrator now at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
 
Dennis deLeon, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS, said Frieden would make an excellent choice if selected.
 
"I've been doing this work since 1994, and he's the first health commissioner to really go after the HIV orthodoxy with an eye toward bringing solutions," deLeon said.
 
DeLeon said he also supported Frieden's stance on HIV testing because it gets more people into treatment.
 
Health Department clinics in New York City gave 70,000 HIV tests last year, compared to 30,000 in 2002.
 
 
 
 
 
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