July 10, 2003
HIV infection among young people remains high statewide, according to a recently released study by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Local officials say cuts in state funding for school health programs and community health centers, coupled with a lower sense of urgency about HIV/AIDS, are among reasons why the disease remains a persistent threat to the state's young people.
Brockton had the state's ninth-highest percentage of recent HIV diagnoses among 13- to 24-year-olds; at 8 percent, it is the only community south of Boston in the top 10. In Brockton, 11 of 130 people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS from 1999-2002 were ages 13-24. Statewide, 301 of 4,219 people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS from 1999-2002 were ages 13-24. Although Brockton's numbers are much lower than most other communities in the top 10, they still sparked concern among local school and health officials, who say prevention programs need more money to be effective.
Mary Ellen Kirane, a health specialist for Brockton Public Schools, said that AIDS education remains a core part of the health curriculum at the junior high and high school levels. But cuts in state funding, including the loss of the state's Health Protection Fund, made up of settlement money from lawsuits against tobacco companies, have put a strain on health education programs. When the protection fund was eliminated two years ago, Brockton lost $350,000 in annual health funding that could have been used to educate students about smoking, HIV and other health issues, Kirane said.
Although the state's study did not link the loss of education programs with the persistence of HIV/AIDS in young people, Durrell Fox, project coordinator of the New England HIV Education Consortium, said there is a clear correlation.
The state Public Health Department recently announced a new media campaign aimed at encouraging HIV testing and plans to expand routine HIV testing in communities with the highest prevalence of the virus.