December 2, 2011
South Carolina advocates are building on World AIDS Day to highlight the situation among people ages 13-29, an age group whose infection rates are increasing.
State cases have dropped during the past decade, from 23.8 new cases per 100,000 residents in 1999-2001 to 17.4 per 100,000 in 2008-2010, data from the Department of Health and Environmental Control show. But rates among young South Carolinians have risen, from 8.1 per 100,000 13- to 19-year-olds to 12.6, and from 37.2 per 100,000 20- to 29-year-olds to 41.6. Among young gay men, HIV cases have increased from 457 in 1999-2001 to 691 in 2008-2010, said DHEC.
Bambi Gaddist, executive director of the S.C. HIV/AIDS Council, said her group and DHEC are working together to address the problem. The council's van has been on a tour of state colleges, including the University of South Carolina, Benedict, Allen, Columbia, South Carolina State, Vorhees, Morris, and Coastal Carolina.
These frequent visits "have been very fruitful," said Gaddist. "The colleges welcome us. They're dealing with the realities of young adults."
The van also parks in front of nightclubs popular with young people. "By being outside the clubs, we get [youths] where they are and expose them to the information," Gaddist added. Incentives such as raffles for free clothing are used to generate interest in prevention and testing messages.
Gaddist said health officials are worried about the recent increasing trend among young people, particularly males. "This state cannot afford to not keep this disease in check," she said, noting lawmakers have cut HIV/AIDS funding in recent years. "One of our goals for 2012 is to reopen a conversation with our Legislature about prevention programs."