April 25, 2002
Close to 800 Long Islanders learned they were HIV-positive in the 18-month period ending Dec. 31, according to previously unpublished figures. Though health officials have for years tracked AIDS cases in the state, this is the first time data on HIV-positive New Yorkers has been made public. Because the figures are preliminary, and there are no previous comparative data, public health officials are hesitant to draw any conclusions about the new figures -- except to say they prove the epidemic is not over. The full statewide figures may be released as early as next week.
Since the first Nassau County AIDS case was reported in 1981, Long Island has recorded 6,565 AIDS cases. At a recent legislative breakfast sponsored by the Nassau-Suffolk HIV/AIDS Policy Advisory Committee, Suffolk County Health Commissioner Clare Bradley warned against complacency. Though improved treatments have helped the disease evolve from a death sentence into a chronic, more manageable illness, it is still the leading cause of death among Long Islanders ages 25 to 44. "We are seeing two HIV cases for every AIDS case," Bradley said. "With TB we let down our guard, and TB came back in a very big way. You can't become complacent with a disease that hasn't gone away, and for which there is no cure."
The release of the new data comes as Long Island faces a 5 percent cut in federal Ryan White funds and proposed state budget cuts that would reduce funding to community-based organizations providing services for people with AIDS. Advocates who sought $12 million in new state funding to target services specifically to communities of color, which are disproportionately affected by AIDS, are now battling to restore proposed reductions of $7.9 million in state funds and services, said La-Keisha Dandy, executive director of the Long Island Minority AIDS Coalition. "Eighty-three percent of new AIDS cases are among people of color," Dandy said.