Number of HIV-Positive Minorities Grows, Florida County Reevaluates AIDS Services, Funding
HIV/AIDS service workers in Broward County, Fla., continue to "struggl[e]" to confront the "changing face of AIDS" in the area, five years after officials began to notice that the number of infections among minorities were increasing, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports. Now that two-thirds of county residents recently infected with HIV are black or Hispanic, the county has begun channeling more of its $50 million AIDS budget to minority-based programs that it hopes will "break down the cultural barriers" that have traditionally hindered treatment and prevention efforts in minority communities. State health statistics demonstrate that blacks and Hispanics are "disproportionately affected" by HIV, with one in 50 blacks infected, compared to one in 286 whites. While some minority organizations say that the county is "still not doing enough," other groups worry that the shift will take money away from their services. Health officials and minority advocates say that "specially tailored" programs need greater support because "years of AIDS work have missed large swaths of minority communities." Traditional HIV/AIDS programs "have not been as sensitive to [minorities'] special needs," advocates say, adding that the difference comes down to "basic issues of access and cultural sensitivity." A greater "stigma" surrounding HIV and homosexuality exists in minority communities, the Sun-Sentinel reports. In addition, the "hardest to reach groups," such as high school dropouts and the homeless, are "disproportionately black or Hispanic. "We can reach the people better because we understand the problem. We are minority like they are. We can speak their language. This is not a gay white disease," the Rev. Juanita Mincey of the group Christ Crusaders said. Mincey's group expanded north into South Broward County because of what she called a "troubling lack of AIDS outreach there."
Broward County's older, more established AIDS outreach groups worry that the new emphasis on minority services will hurt their programs. "You keep spreading the money out thinner and thinner, and pretty soon the people who need help aren't going to get anything," Robert Goerlich, a volunteer at the Poverello Food Bank, said. The food bank has seen its funding decrease from $925,000 last year to $753,000 this year and has had to cut back on its days of operation, as well as what items it supplies. Some worry that the new minority-based organizations are taking money without a proven track record indicating that their funding will be well spent. "I'm supportive of any agency that will support a person with HIV, but what I've seen is a lot of people get into it and get out of it," Poverello's Ken Fontaine said. Minority activists say those fears are unfounded and call for more money to be channeled their way. "We've started to see small shifts in money, but we haven't seen the major shifts we need. The money for minority communities is simply not adequate," Ann Cardenas of Hispanic Unity said (Wyman, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 4/24).