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Will a flood of new AIDS patients break the system's back?

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The CDC points to New York City’s public hospital consortium for proof of how well this sort of aggressive testing policy can work. The consortium cranked up its HIV testing program in fiscal year 2005; by fiscal year 2006 the number of new HIV diagnoses it logs had nearly doubled. But the burning question is who will provide treatment and care to all these newly diagnosed people? There’s no room at the clinic for this kind of growth.

CDC says it’s a moot point. “If we have 250,000 people in our population who are undiagnosed, they are at a very high risk of transmitting that HIV to others,” CDC’s prevention chief, Kevin Fenton, responded when I asked how we’re going to absorb the newly diagnosed. “The long term costs of not diagnosing these are going to be tremendous.”

Fine point. But it means the CDC has set up a decisive moment in the history of this epidemic. Without new resources, the newly diagnosed will undoubtedly break the system’s back. In the near future, we will have to decide whether we are prepared to invest what’s needed to both stop the virus’s spread and provide real care for those already infected. Otherwise, we will go on managing the epidemic at its edges. Should that happen, we could find ourselves returning to a crisis level similar to that in the early days of the disease, withAmericans dying needless deaths in droves.

Kai Wright is a regular contributor to The Root.