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Number of HIV Cases Decreasing Among Blacks in Florida, Increasing Among Other Groups, According to New State Data

June 20, 2005

The number of newly reported HIV cases among blacks in Florida decreased about 30% from 1999 to 2004, but the number of new cases among whites and Latinos increased during that time, according to new state data, a health official said on Friday, the Orlando Sentinel reports. The number of new HIV cases in the state increased about 23% among whites and 29% among Latinos, Florida Secretary of Health John Agwunobi announced on Friday. State health officials said the increase primarily is attributable to increases among men who have sex with men (Shelton, Orlando Sentinel, 6/18). The number of new HIV cases fell about 34% among black women, from 1,710 in 1998 to 1,121 in 2004, and 24% among black men, from 2,012 to 1,520 during the same period, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports. Officials credited the reduction to outreach campaigns promoting safe sex practices. However, blacks still represent about half of all new HIV cases in the state, similar to national rates, the state data show. "Black cases still dominate the numbers, but the fact that the gap is closing is encouraging," Tom Liberti, director of HIV/AIDS for the state Department of Health, said (LaMendola, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 6/18). Although HIV/AIDS prevention and education efforts are showing progress among blacks in the state, Agwunobi said more work needs to be done. "The HIV/AIDS epidemic remains one of the single most important public health challenges that we have," he said (Orlando Sentinel, 6/18).

HIV Testing
HIV testing programs also have contributed to the decline in the number of new cases among blacks in the state, according to Agwunobi. The number of HIV tests conducted in the state has increased from 250,000 in 2000 to more than 300,000 tests in 2003 and 2004. "We're doing HIV testing in medical facilities, in jails, in mobile vans, at pharmacies, with teams of public health officials and community-based organizations," Liberti said. The state also plans to promote a new rapid HIV test that produces results in 30 minutes or less, which officials say might encourage more people to undergo testing and treatment, the Miami Herald reports. Agwunobi also urged state residents to undergo HIV testing as part of National HIV Testing Day, which is June 27. "I call on every corner of this state, every community, every family ... to get tested on that day, to help identify those walking around with HIV," he said, adding, "Then we can get them into treatment so they can live productive lives and reduce transmission."

Number of Infant Cases Declining
Increased HIV/AIDS testing and treatment has contributed to an 84% decrease in the number of vertical HIV transmission cases since 1999, Agwunobi said. "In fact, in the first half of 2005 there have been zero cases of infant HIV transmission in the state of Florida," he said (Tasker, Miami Herald, 6/18). Identifying HIV-positive pregnant women, or HIV-positive women who might become pregnant, is key to preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission, officials said. In order to target high-risk groups, the state gives grants for outreach and HIV/AIDS education and treatment to local organizations that are active in minority communities, Tampa Bay Online reports (Gentry, Tampa Bay Online, 6/18). In addition, a new state law signed by Gov. Jeb Bush (R) earlier this month makes HIV testing a routine part of prenatal care, unless a woman objects. The decrease in the number of mother-to-child HIV cases was most significant among black women, according to the AP/Yahoo! News (Royse, AP/Yahoo! News, 6/17).

Poor, Rural Areas in Florida Hard Hit
The Naples Daily News on Sunday profiled Immokalee, Florida, which -- like many rural, poverty-stricken areas in the state -- is hard hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Health officials say a lack of education and the daily struggle for survival contribute to the high rates of HIV/AIDS in Immokalee, where 1.4% of the population is HIV-positive. In addition, high rates of drug use and a lack of condom use contribute to the spread of the virus, researchers say. Increased HIV testing and education efforts, in addition to fighting the stigma surrounding the disease, are needed to control the rising numbers of new HIV cases in the area, according to officials and advocates (Zeitlin, Naples Daily News, 6/19).

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