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HIV/AIDS Epidemic Growing Faster in South Than Other Regions, Study Presented at National AIDS Update Conference Says

March 29, 2004

The number of HIV-positive people is rising faster in the South than in any other region of the United States, according to a study presented on Sunday at the American Foundation for AIDS Research 16th National HIV/AIDS Update Conference in Miami, the AP/Gainesville Sun reports. Michelle Scavnicky, community relations director for The AIDS Institute, and CDC researcher Kim Williams presented the study, which examined HIV/AIDS among 17 southern states and the District of Columbia. The study found that people in the South represented 40% of the people living with AIDS and 46% of newly diagnosed AIDS cases in 2002 nationwide, although they accounted for 38% of the U.S. population at that time, according to the AP/Sun. In addition, Scavnicky and Williams said that the epidemic increasingly affects people in rural areas and minorities. For example, while blacks accounted for 19% of the population in the South, they represented 53% of the region's AIDS cases in 2002, Scavnicky and Williams said. Drug use, a reluctance to discuss sex and a lack of access to health care have contributed to the problem, the researchers said (Carlson, AP/Gainesville Sun, 3/28). "Being gay in the South is totally taboo. You are mentally, physically and verbally abused," Wayne Dicks, a health specialist for HopeHealth, said, adding, "There are a lot of 'down low' brothers who live with a woman and go out at night and sleep with men. They don't consider themselves gay" (Glanton, Chicago Tribune, 3/28). In addition, funding for HIV/AIDS programs in the United States has been "increasingly difficult to find," conference co-chair Mervyn Silverman said (AP/Gainesville Sun, 3/28).

Drawing Attention to Southern United States
The Florida/Caribbean AIDS Education and Training Center is cosponsoring the conference, which also serves as the 13th Annual Florida HIV Conference. The AIDS Update Conference, which runs through March 30, is being held for the second consecutive year in Miami -- after being held in San Francisco for 14 years -- to continue to "direct much-needed attention to the serious epidemic in the Southeast[ern]" United States, according to the NAUC Web site (NAUC Web site, 3/29). CDC Director Julie Gerberding, World Health Organization Director of HIV/AIDS Dr. Paulo Teixeira and UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director Kathleen Cravero on Saturday spoke about the status of HIV/AIDS in the United States and elsewhere. "We simply cannot go on watching millions die while we have the technical expertise, the drugs, the political commitment and unprecedented yet still insufficient financial resources to roll out drug treatments," Teixeira said (Tasker, Miami Herald, 3/28). At the opening of the conference on Saturday, Silverman said that HIV/AIDS prevention strategies should be "unified in purpose but diverse in action" to address differences in communities affected by the disease (Weinberg, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 3/28). About 2,000 AIDS experts are expected to attend the conference (LaMendola, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 3/27).

Success Threatened in Haiti
Treatment and prevention programs in Haiti have cut the country's HIV prevalence by 50% since 1993, Dr. Jean Pape of Cornell University's Weill Medical College, who directs Les Centres Gheskio, said on Sunday at the conference, according to the Miami Herald. In addition, the rate of mother-to-child HIV transmission in the country has dropped from 22% to 4%, and HIV testing has increased sevenfold, Pape said (Tasker, Miami Herald, 3/29). However, violence tied to the current political unrest in the country could undermine that progress, Partners in Health Co-Founder Paul Farmer said, adding that rebels have stolen four ambulances from PIH clinics in Haiti during the past two months. "How can you deliver community-based prevention and care if you can't get into the communities?" Farmer asked (Hernandez, South Florida Sun Sentinel, 3/29). He called for a shift in the perception of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment from a "tool delivered and withheld on the basis of cost effectiveness" to the perception of such services as a "human right," according to the Herald. "We don't know how much it costs us as human beings not to have equity, to have a situation in which some people have access to drugs and others do not. Problems can be overcome. We know we're not going to meet the goal, but it doesn't mean we should stop trying," Farmer said (Miami Herald, 3/29).

Webcasts of select sessions of the conference are available online from

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