The number of HIV-positive residents in Dallas County, Tex., has increased during the past five years, leading some county officials to express concern about the effects of a condom distribution ban enacted 13 years ago, the Dallas Morning News reports. According to the Morning News, the Dallas County Commissioners Court in 1995 passed regulations banning the distribution of condoms and needle sterilization kits to at-risk people in local communities, saying these practices encouraged illegal and immoral behavior. In addition, the commissioners approved regulations requiring county health programs to emphasize abstinence. Local medical officials at the time criticized the regulations, saying they would endanger public health. In addition, federal and state agencies reduced grant funding to Dallas County for disease prevention and education efforts. Dallas County currently has the only public health agency in Texas that bars condoms in education and prevention programs, the Morning News reports. However, soon after the 1995 ban was enacted, the Commissioners Court agreed to a compromise under which privately donated condoms would be available in county health clinics, according to the Morning News.
According to state officials, Dallas County had the highest HIV prevalence in Texas last year as well as in 2006, despite a decrease in the number of newly reported cases. Commissioner John Wiley Price (D), who voted against the condom distribution ban in 1995, said he is alarmed by the number of HIV cases among black communities in the county and does not want to see HIV increase "under my watch." According to the Morning News, HIV also has particularly affected Hispanic communities in the county, mirroring nationwide trends. Price said he cannot "continue to join the ostrich head-in-the-sand group given" the number of county residents living with HIV. "'Just say no' hasn't worked with too many things," he added. County Judge Jim Foster (D) also said he hopes to end the condom distribution ban, adding, "For the cost of one dollar we can save a couple hundred thousand dollars in medical bills." Commissioner Maurine Dickey -- a newer member of the Commissioners Court who is seen as a potential swing vote on the issue -- said she plans to "listen to the discussion and see what the situation is" regarding the condom distribution ban.
According to the Morning News, Dallas County leads the U.S. in abstinence education spending, with $17 million allocated last year in public schools. However, condom availability is "not a question of money," the Morning News reports. The Texas Department of State Health Services provides no-cost condoms to all county health departments in the state, and the county Department of Health and Human Services provides condoms in its clinics for those who request them, county DHHS director Zach Thompson said. Raeline Nobles, executive director of AIDS Arms, said, "It's better to go in the communities that are high-risk because they may not come to you." She added, "Any barrier to receiving condoms needs to be eliminated." Thompson said the county has a mobile medical clinic that visits high-risk neighborhoods and offers counseling, referrals, screening, testing, and treatment for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. The mobile clinic does not offer condoms, the Morning News reports (Krause, Dallas Morning News, 12/22).
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