April 16, 2003
Health officials believe that many HIV-positive African immigrants suffer from stigma about the disease in their home countries, and this leads them to fear admitting they have the virus. "Unlike the rest of Minnesota... they have not been exposed to educational and prevention messages for the past 20 years," said Tracy Sides, an AIDS epidemiologist at the health department.
As a result, the health department in December began sending African-born educators out into the community to provide prevention information and offer HIV testing. "We go everywhere and do presentations," said Elizabeth Namarra, a health department liaison to African community organizations. "People open up and ask questions. It used to be a high stigma, but now everyone wants to learn," she noted.
More reassuring were the 2002 HIV data among white gay men in the state, officials said. New cases dropped 7 percent last year, after a spike of 130 new cases in 2001. However, health experts fear that decline could be temporary, since a syphilis outbreak in the gay community last year could forecast an increase in HIV. Health officials said half of the new syphilis patients were also HIV-positive. Minnesota had 82 new cases of syphilis in 2002, up from 49 the previous year. The outbreak has continued for the first three months of 2003, with officials reporting 20 new cases.