WASHINGTON -- The Centers for Disease Control should allow more people to comment on its controversial proposal to broaden the AIDS definition, a plan that could expand the AIDS population by at least 50 percent, said members of the National Commission on AIDS.
Near the end of a two-day conference on the CDC's proposal yesterday, the commission agreed unanimously to ask the CDC to extend the comment period on the new AIDS definition, which ends on Monday.
The recommendation followed hours of testimony from experts who said minorities, poor women and intravenous drug users would be left out by the new AIDS criteria and that those who are shifted from a definition of HIV-infected to AIDS patient would burden an already stressed health care system.
The CDC needs to allow more time for organizations that work with AIDS patients and HIV-infected individuals to review the complex proposal and make comments, Chairwoman June E. Osborn said.
Vice Chairman David E. Rogers said the request would be made to Health and Human Services Secretary Louis W. Sullivan.
Ruth Berkelman, chief of the CDC's surveillance branch, said the commission's request seems reasonable.
The CDC has proposed adding a controversial laboratory test to the AIDS criteria. The test identifies the number of CD4 lymphocyte cells -- white blood cells that attack the HIV virus.
Anyone who has the HIV virus and a CD4 lymphocyte count of 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood would be listed as an AIDS sufferer.
Despite assertions by the CDC that the AIDS population would increase by at least 50 percent under that criteria, witnesses from several AIDS treatment and advocacy agencies argued that the definition would leave out poor women, minorities and intravenous drug users, who often don't seek regular medical care and won't be able to afford the lymphocyte test.
Lab experts estimate that the test cost could range between $100 and $600.
There is also a fear that the reporting of AIDS cases to the CDC will be relegated to laboratory workers as well as doctors, increasing the risk of breaching the confidentiality of AIDS suffers.
"It's an enormous leap of faith" for the CDC to assume everyone will feel comfortable with the new reporting system, said David Hansell, deputy executive director for policy for Gay Men's Health Crisis Inc. in New York City.