North Carolina AIDS Advisory Council Releases AIDS Index Findings
Although African Americans account for only 20% of North Carolina's population, they represent nearly three quarters of all new HIV infections in the state, according to the North Carolina AIDS Advisory Council's third N.C. AIDS Index released early this month. State Health Director Dr. Dennis McBride said, "Racial disparities are a tremendous issue for the [state] Department of Health and Human Services, and HIV/AIDS gives us a chilling example of the disproportionate effect a disease can have on specific communities." Infection rates among whites have "decreased significantly," while the numbers continue to grow among African Americans, particularly women. The state estimates that between 13,500 and 17,500 residents are living with HIV or AIDS.
Victim of Its Own Success
Although the state's overall infection rate remains relatively stable, many people no longer see HIV/AIDS as a serious "threat." The index notes that many at-risk individuals are not altering their behavior because they believe that the virus can be cured. "The fight against HIV and AIDS is suffering from its own success," Pastor Ed White, Advisory Council chair, said, adding, "People are living longer with the disease, which is heartening, but we've noted that people are less likely to perceive the disease as the serious threat that it continues to be." Deaths from AIDS-related illnesses have continued to decrease, which some attribute to advances in treatment. The index also shows that one-third of HIV infections are a result of heterosexual contact -- a rise of 200% over the last decade -- and that the rate of infection among newborns born to HIV-positive mothers has dropped from 25%-30% to 3% in the last three years (NCAAC release, 12/1). The report calls pediatric treatment and prevention efforts the "greatest victory in the fight against HIV and AIDS in North Carolina." However, of the 260 pediatric HIV/AIDS cases reported through 1998, 80% were in African-American children. There is "intense discussion" surrounding HIV screening for pregnant women, but the index states that North Carolina "HIV prenatal health care providers have recommended that the state test all pregnant women for HIV infection unless the woman refuses" (North Carolina AIDS Index, 1999/2000). The report also shows the following:
- Since 1990, the number of women diagnosed with AIDS in North Carolina has increased each year.
- Women accounted for an "alarming" 35% of the state's HIV infections from 1996 to 1998.
- More than 30% of reported HIV cases occur in people in their twenties.
- Lack of access to transportation is "one of the biggest" barriers for HIV/AIDS patients to receive proper care.
- North Carolina's AIDS Drug Assistance Program has the "most restrictive financial eligibility requirements" for entry -- participants' income level must be lower than 125% of the federal poverty level.
- Needle exchange programs are currently illegal in the state, although the programs "have been widely proven to successfully combat the spread of HIV/AIDS" (NCAAC fact sheet, 12/1).
The council says that North Carolina's fight against the disease must continue. The index recommends that the state step up efforts in minority communities, especially the hard-hit African-American community, and address the "language barrier in treatment and prevention" that exists with the growing Hispanic community. The council also would like to see an increase in funding to meet the needs of all HIV-positive people in the state, including the "most basic unmet need," accessible transportation to AIDS services (NCAAC release, 12/1).