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AIDS Tightens Grip on U.S. South

April 25, 2003

The AIDS epidemic is "drastically and quickly" increasing in the South, which already faces a dire shortage of resources to combat the disease, health officials said in a new report Thursday. "In essence, we're declaring a state of emergency in the South," said Dr. Gene Copello, co-chair of the Southern AIDS Coalition, made up of health officials in 14 Southern states.

According to the report:

The face of AIDS in the South, said the report, is becoming increasingly rural, female, heterosexual and African-American. AIDS is appearing with alarming frequency in rural Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama. The South is more severely plagued by HIV/AIDS because of racial and economic differences and a conservative cultural attitude that interferes with attempts to halt the disease, the report said.

More than half of the people with AIDS in the South are African-American, though only 20 percent of the region's population is black. African-American men are less likely to acknowledge that they are in a high-risk group for AIDS and are less likely to volunteer for HIV testing, researchers said.

HIV/AIDS rates also are much higher in communities in which poverty is high and adequate housing is scarce, the report said. In addition, HIV/AIDS rates closely parallel the incidence of STDs, such as syphilis and gonorrhea -- and the South has the nation's highest rates of these diseases. The group called for a "bold response" at the federal, state and local levels to fight the surging epidemic.

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Excerpted from:
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
04.25.03; Charles Seabrook

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