May 12, 2011
Baton Rouge and New Orleans are ranked second and third, after Miami, by CDC for US cities with new HIV/AIDS cases.
Jimmy Chase, a 37-year-old HIV-positive New Orleans resident, has taken it upon himself to help prevent new infections, especially in his hometown. Nine years after his diagnosis, Chase enjoys a career as a substance-abuse counselor and also gives talks about learning his diagnosis.
"Never in my wildest dreams I thought it would happen to me," said Chase, a former drug user who suspects he contracted HIV from contaminated tattoo needles in prison. "People are in denial."
According to the Louisiana health department, African Americans are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. The department noted in 2008 that upwards of 70 percent of new HIV/AIDS cases in the state were in African Americans. State records also report an increasing frequency in diagnoses among heterosexual black women.
"This is real, and its happening all over," said Tamichia Davenport, a faith-based community HIV outreach worker who laments the infections among an increasingly younger population. "Unfortunately, they are representing all ages, as young as 12."
Outreach counselors are emphasizing the ease, immediacy, and importance of frequent testing for those at high risk.