Early treatment for HIV is more successful than later treatment. But that's not the only reason to praise the recommendation of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force that doctors should test almost everyone ages 15 to 64 for the virus that causes AIDS.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1.2 million people in the United States are infected with HIV but that close to 1 in 5 don't know it. Even before there was any effective treatment for HIV, large-scale testing as a preventive measure could have kept a tremendous amount of suffering and death at bay. It should have begun years ago. Decades ago.
Fear and prudishness got in the way. During the early years of AIDS, there was widespread ignorance about how easily the infection might be transmitted. A backlash against the groups most commonly associated with the disease — gay males, intravenous drug users and people with multiple sex partners — included attempts to discriminate against them, so that even gay rights groups sometimes fought against testing programs. Ryan White, a middle school student who was infected through a blood transfusion, had to fight in court for the right to attend school. Blood banks put off routine testing, concerned about possible blood shortages. In 1989, the topic of whether to offer screening to all pregnant women was highly controversial. Some pediatric AIDS specialists pointed out that with early information, they might be able to avoid transmission of the virus to the fetus. Others contended that there was too much risk of social isolation for women who tested positive.