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Anniston Star/Columbus Ledger-Inquirer Examines HIV/AIDS Epidemic in Alabama, Southern States

June 27, 2006

The Anniston Star/Columbus Ledger-Inquirer on Saturday examined the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Alabama and throughout the South, where reasons for the virus' spread are "complex," but the "root causes can be reduced to the lowest common denominators -- poverty, drugs, hopelessness and a lack of access to sex education." According to CDC, the 17 Southern states from Delaware to Texas comprise about one-third of the U.S. population and account for 46% of new annual AIDS cases in the country. In addition, the number of new annual AIDS cases in the region increased by 9% from 2000 to 2004, the Star/Ledger-Inquirer reports. The epidemic in recent years has "changed course, attacking the rural poor and heterosexual, and it's slowly decimating the black population," according to the Star/Ledger-Inquirer. Blacks in Alabama comprise 26% of the population and 70% of new HIV cases, according to the advocacy group AIDS Alabama. "[HIV/AIDS] is becoming a disease of the disenfranchised," Barbara Hanna -- medical director of Health Services Center, an HIV/AIDS clinic in Anniston, Ala. -- said, adding, "We are the underbelly of society and this is where the disenfranchised live." Tom Robertson, HIV coordinator for the Calhoun County Health Department, said when he visits local schools to teach ninth grade health classes about the epidemic, he is "appalled by what they don't know." He said some students "still think [HIV] is spread by mosquitoes," adding, "In the 25 years of this epidemic, we're still answering the same questions. And it's not the ignorance of the South. It's the lack of information" (Buckner, Anniston Star/Columbus Ledger-Inquirer, 6/24).

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