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Health Officials: Washington State Needs to Focus on Preventing AIDS

April 1, 2002

According to the latest statistics in the state, Washington recorded its 10,000th case of AIDS last month. "I find it extremely frustrating, having worked in this area for 20 years," said Dr. Robert Wood, who directs the HIV/AIDS control program for Public Health -- Seattle and King County. "This is just way too many people." After being diagnosed with HIV in the early '80s, Wood both publicly and personally took up the fight against AIDS.

Wood and other public health officials called a news conference Friday at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle to draw attention to HIV/AIDS in the state and to call for increased efforts to prevent infection. Twenty years after the state's first case was reported, there are at least 7,412 people living with HIV/AIDS in Washington, more than ever before. As many as 2,500 more have HIV/AIDS but don't know it because they have never been tested, says Dr. Maxine Hayes, the state's health officer. Many of those people are mentally ill, alcoholic, homeless or intravenous drug users, which makes them tough to reach, she said.

Thanks to better treatments, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS has increased. But, as with the nation as a whole, Washington has seen its annual number of new AIDS cases stop falling, said Jack Jourden, an infectious disease specialist with the health department. "Our concern is that it may start increasing," he said. In 1993, there were 997 new AIDS cases reported in the state. The number fell to 412 in 1998 and 366 in 1999 before jumping to 447 in 2000. Reporting for 2001 has not been totaled yet, but officials expect the number of cases to top 400.

Health officials said more money needs to be spent on fighting HIV/AIDS, especially on prevention. AIDS prevention money appropriated by the Legislature under the 1988 Omnibus Act has remained at $8.1 million annually since 1991, with no adjustment for inflation.

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Excerpted from:
Associated Press
03.31.02; Gene Johnson

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