For too long a time, there was an anti-AIDS testing mentality in this country. Part of the reason was, frankly, that there was little to offer infected men and women, save advice about how to keep from infecting others. In the last few years, however, medical technology has vastly changed those prospects. Now, people who are infected can begin treatment even if they are symptom free. AZT, for example, can prolong the time it takes for the disease to fully develop, and aerosolized pentamidine can help stave off a rare form of pneumonia that afflicts AIDS victims.
Unfortunately, too many people do not get tested -- particularly the poor who have neither personal physicians nor health insurance. Among this group, those at greatest risk are the men and women who show up at the city's sexually transmitted disease clinics. So it makes sense to provide confidential AIDS testing and counseling at these sites.
For the past year, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the city's Health Department have worked together in a pioneer program to make HIV screening available at city STD clinics, and the results are startling. Nearly three-quarters of the 21,000 clients accepted the offer to be tested. Of those, 612 were positive -- more than half the total number of reported AIDS cases in the city to date. Those who tested positive were offered counseling and referred to treatment facilities. Not everyone followed up, of course, but more than 70 percent did. That's a significant number of people who would otherwise be unaware that they were infected, and might unwittingly pass the virus to someone else.
The new testing program offers no lifesaving breakthroughs. But it buys precious time, and together with counseling, can be a key in bringing the spread of AIDS under control.