National Opinions

San Francisco Chronicle: Expand AIDS testing

At the dawn of the AIDS scourge over two decades ago, there was a fear factor about testing for the disease-causing virus.

There were worries of government tracking, no treatments to follow a potentially fatal diagnosis and the outcast stigma of the disease. These what-if doubts hamstrung a valuable tool in containing a epidemic that has killed more than 25 million worldwide and infected another 33 million.

But now the landscape has changed. A patient diagnosed with the AIDS virus can be treated with life-extending drugs, which carry the added plus of limiting transmission. An informed patient will be less likely to pass on the virus, transmitted by needles, blood and bodily fluids.

That's why it makes sense for AIDS screening to be a routine part of medical exams. Catch it early, and everyone from patients to partners benefits.

This commonsense idea already has traction in California where health insurers are now obliged to cover testing under a law signed in October. San Francisco public-health doctors switched from written consent for AIDS screening to oral request, a speeded-up process that boosted testing and turned up more AIDS-positive patients for treatment.

It's time to push for a federal policy -- and serious Washington money -- to make testing work. Setting the right example here will also help in the global fight to curb the AIDS epidemic.