December 3, 2002
His declaration, which promised little money and few initiatives, came after intense lobbying by the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, an organization of black ministers, and an AIDS commission spearheaded by City Council President Sheila Dixon, who lost her brother and sister-in-law to the disease. Since June, both groups had asked O'Malley to dedicate more resources to prevention, treatment and education, saying the city's efforts have been woefully inadequate. Dixon said she had been frustrated by the delay and was grateful the mayor had acted.
With city Health Commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, O'Malley made the announcement at a hastily called news conference. "I'm declaring a public health emergency with respect to HIV and AIDS," O'Malley said. "I'm urging all citizens... to step up efforts so this scourge can be conquered in the city, this country and this globe." Similar declarations were made two years ago in Houston and four years ago in Oakland. O'Malley said he intends to create a standing commission of public health officials and other experts to monitor the epidemic and the city's efforts to fight it.
AIDS is the second leading cause of death among city residents ages 25-44, trailing only homicide. While new infections and AIDS cases have been declining, Baltimore still has one of the highest per-capita caseloads in the country. In 2000, some 12,000 city residents were HIV-positive. Today, the caseload is 85 percent African-American.
The creation of a standing commission was a key recommendation of a report issued in June by an expert panel convened by City Council. That report noted that while Baltimore was blessed with nationally recognized medical institutions, its public health officials had not done enough to coordinate AIDS-fighting efforts, and its business community had not done enough to stop the epidemic.